Mental Health is not Social Media

FeaturedMental Health is not Social Media

2020 has been a weird year so far. To be fair, every year feels like that. However, this year feels… uncertain… bleak… long. But not necessarily bad. It’s just… there.

These past few weeks, I’ve been ruminating on words to type onto the screen, debating what needs said and how to say it. There’s a lot to say given the world we currently live in. I’m not sure I can even put all my thoughts into words; after all, some things cannot be captured in syllables and consonants. Some things are better off existing in the in-between, where we know what it is even if we can’t exactly put letters to it. Maybe that sounds crazy, but also… I can’t put it into words.

Like everybody else, I wanted to start 2020 with a bang. I wanted to do ALL the things, conquer ALL the goals. I wanted to continue bettering myself mentally, physically, and spiritually. Some of those things I am doing.

My mental health is much better this year than it was last year, but I still need to be careful of what I let in–more on that later. Physically? Well, if you were to ask me where the nearest gym was in State College, I’ll simply pretend I didn’t hear you as I watch the next new show on Netflix. Not to mention my newfound addiction of zebra cakes of which I bought eight boxes to use as an in-class demonstration—a demonstration I never did, which resulted in me (and my zebra cake BFF) to sneak in sugary snacks throughout the school day as if they were little rolls of crack. Spoiler alert: they are; we’re down to one box in less than a week. And spiritually? I do feel I’m better in tune with my surroundings, finding my own zen, if you will.

I’m writing more, reading more, and focusing on my students more. I’ve been taking small steps such as walking to work vs. driving the .2 miles there, cooking meals at home, and actually paying attention to the things I buy–not that I don’t buy things. I do. Target is a magical place.

However, I’ve noticed that one place that has no magic, despite all its promises of social sorcery, is that of social media.

Okay, fine. Maybe it does have magic, but it’s the dark kind, one that boils in pits of tar and swallows reason and logic as if it were a parasitic slug.

Up until December, I’d taken a two year break from Facebook and a six-month hiatus from Twitter. Why? Well, it’s full of fake news being touted as facts, narcissistic personalities reigning free all for a like or a hundred, and endless debates on morality that never actually does anything but irritate people and cause divides. Oh, and to be fair, I’m guilty of some of these things myself. I am, after all, human.

I did enjoy my first few weeks back on Facebook: I publicly came out as gay and received much support from friends even if I didn’t get much support from family members because, in their misunderstood interpretations of the Bible, they feel I’m an abomination for loving men, for my biological attraction to them. But it’s okay. They still love me–they just don’t love what I am. Oh well. I’m finally free being out. I enjoyed calling out social injustices. I spent an hour or so purging my friends list because why not?

Then I found myself getting into little debates here and there. Some with friends/family and others with strangers, both on Twitter and on Facebook. I started finding myself devoting considerable time each day to these feeds, procrastinating from doing things more deserving of my time. I’d scroll and scroll and scroll, laughing at Baby Yoda memes until I cried, watching dog videos until they morphed into videos of people talking to their pet cactus (it’s real), and becoming depressed at how terrible and deadly ignorance, racism, sexism, and Trumpism is in the digital world. My time and mental health were being assaulted.

Sure, I can keep up on the news easier this way. I can keep in touch with awesome people through these platforms. But… do I really need to know what Jane Doe is eating for Sunday Funday? Is it necessary to read how John Doe is drooling over Jon Snow on Game of Thrones? What purpose does it serve for me to see memes, comedic or political when all it does is either waste away time or make me upset at the degrading morality of our nation?

The answer is: no, it’s not necessary. No, there’s no purpose except to get sucked into the vortex of self-important posts and cat videos.

I try to justify keeping these platforms to use my voice, to speak up, to stay connected. But really all I’m doing is opening myself up to mental attacks and judgment on others and from others. I’m sitting behind a screen, feeding some strange appetite while I’m really starving myself from the beauty life has to offer.

Remember my adventures in California? If not, feel free to check those out, but… I didn’t have social media when I was in CA. I had my phone, yes. But no Facebook–no Twitter. It was just me and the world–connections with strangers, embracing the beauty and wonder of nature, feeding my creativity with experiences outside of a digital screen. God, I LOVED THOSE DAYS! They were energizing, fresh, invigorating. My soul has been longing for that magic to return. Friends, if I told you how many times I’ve looked at Air BnBs and flights and wonderful places to see in the past month, you’d probably think me crazy. I want another adventure. Hell, I want to return to Mt. Shasta so bad it hurts. Alas, money is a wicked and limiting thing.

But so is social media when you consider all it keeps you from.

The reason why I enjoyed life so much in those two weeks was because I was free from the burden social media holds over the lives of so many people. I was free from the negativity in the world. I was free from the baggage of feeling like I had to post something or like a status or comment on Suzie’s post about how sinful and wrong a Super Bowl half-time show was but yet blindly praise a man who treats people poorly daily with terrible names and intentional lies, a man who breaks up families and fuels an “us vs. them” mindset with human beings.

All of that noise was gone, and I was better for it. So, as 2020 starts picking up steam, what’s the point in keeping the two platforms that cause me so much anxiety, depression, and unproductiveness? I can’t come up with many reasons.

Therefore, the best thing I can do is delete both accounts. Entirely. In this way, I won’t have any accounts to return to. There will be no temptation to hop on and see what’s up with people or get into debates. It will be deleted along with my accounts.

You might say, “But Josh! This won’t shield you from the horrible things in the world!”

That is true. I’ll still follow the news. It will continue to make me sad, to make me cry. It’s my duty, however, to be informed without exposing myself to what I see on social media. Folks, our democracy is dying. Some of you will not agree with me. Some of you see it just as I do. We live in uncertain times where a president can commit a crime and get away with it. People of his own party admits to his wrong doing but won’t vote him out. We are seeing the death of democracy and justice and the rise of an authoritarian system. I only wish I was exaggerating. I only wish my family didn’t so eagerly support and love a liar, a racist, and a man who contradicts all their religious morals on a daily basis. It hurts to see people I love and care about become so easily manipulated by lies and the degradation of human beings. I can’t tolerate it on social media any longer, as it does nothing good for me.

I’ll get my news through the internet, but in this way I’ll avoid the comments and responses. I’ll use my voice, not on social media platforms, but in my community. I’ll speak up against the injustices in the world by writing my stories and posting on here. I’ll help raise an intellectual army in my students, encouraging them to research and explore and form their own opinions–to love, to forgive, to continue being the awesome human beings they already are. That’s where using your voice makes the most impact–in the real world. Not in the social media world.

We are in strange times. 2020 is uncertain at this point. I’m still trying to figure out what kind of year it’ll be and who it’ll make me at the end.

I refuse to let Facebook and Twitter be the things that shape me.

So, with that, I’ll leave you. You will not find me on either platform anymore. You can find me on here where I’ll write when I can. You can reach out to my cell phone. Should you find me outside the digital walls, hopefully you’ll join me in the wilderness of real-life, enjoying nature and making connections.

This is the way.

Brave, Bruised, Who I’m Meant to Be. No Apologies.

FeaturedBrave, Bruised, Who I’m Meant to Be. No Apologies.

It’s been awhile, hasn’t it?

Yes, yes it has.

The last time I posted was fresh off my exciting California trip, just as I was preparing to begin teaching a whole new group of students. I had every intention of blogging at least once per month. We all know how that turned out.

But I’ve been putting a lot of effort into my teaching. I’m in love with my job again. I’m trying so many new things with my students from self-assessments to taking a step away from full-class reads and allowing students to choose books within a genre to read instead. It’s exciting. Fresh. Scary. Wonderful. It makes me feel bad for the teacher I was the past couple of years, but I also realize that’s part of growing. For the first time since I started teaching middle school, I feel like I’m able to actually focus on teaching vs. directing. Not that I regret my years doing drama, but it was time to grow in other areas.

My mental health is much better. That’s not to say I don’t have ups and downs or that I always manage my time wisely. I’m human, after all. No amount of medicine can make me productive. Except coffee. Coffee always wins. Your argument is invalid.

A lot has changed since that post in August. Besides trying to be the best teacher I can be, I’ve finally announced my truth. What truth? The truth that I’m 100% gay–always have been. It’s been a slow process over the years. I’m not sure I ever discussed it on my blog post.

But here I am. And I’m not apologizing for it.

I started with close friends a few years back and was met with nothing but support, both local and long-distance. Those friends mean the world to me. You know who you are.

During a heated political argument nearly two years, I told my mom. It was the opposite of support. The slow process continued. Friends offered support, but most of my family did not. I expected as much considering I was raised in a highly conservative evangelical home. I grew up in a place of White privilege where the norm was the White straight male and women submitting to men. I hardly questioned it growing up. Why would I? Instead, I hid who I was because I knew the response would be terrible.

Oh, I tried to pray the gay away. I tried to make deals with God. I did my fair share of self-loathing because I thought there was something wrong with me, that I was a defect on the human assembly line. After all, I was taught that homosexuality was an “abomination” and a disgrace to God. It was the message of “love the sinner, hate the sin” that is really a facade to justify hatred and inequality. Trust me. I know. I grew up around parents who would balk at any signs of homosexual relationships on TV. I remember when two guys in Glee kissed my parents freaked out, muttering how disgusting that was and that nobody wanted to see that–that showing love between two guys was immoral and shoving the LGBT+ community down their throats. When Once Upon A Time introduced a fierce lesbian couple, the show was banished because how dare they show that!

A lovely thing to see! We need more LGBT+ representation!

Yet the heterosexual relationships were never questioned. How was it fair they get screen time but people like me don’t? What message does that send to people hiding in the dark, afraid to speak up about their truths?

Instead, this disgusted response to the rising gay community only made me hate myself even more. I was trained to think I was disgusting, a mistake, an abomination in God’s eyes. I was cursed. Doomed. Unworthy. And I knew that if I came out during my teenage years, I’d probably be put into some sort of gay conversion camp.

So fear stayed my tongue.

I lived a secret life.

I stayed in the dark, hidden away.

But then I moved away from home–like to another state. I still hid for quite some time, but education is a powerful thing. I began to learn more and more that there was no shame in who I am. I did studies that actually add context to the “hate verses” evangelicals use so frequently against people like me. I researched. I found I was not an abomination or a mistake or defected.

I’ll never forget the first words from a family member when I came out to them: “No. No. I did not give birth to that.” It went on that this family member told me that they cried themselves to sleep that night. Future discussions would accuse me of being selfish because I hadn’t considered their feelings when I told them I was gay, that I wasn’t considering how hard my truth was to them. It was even suggested that me being gay was a mental illness and that I should talk to someone so they could “fix” me.

Those are words that can’t ever be taken back and even though I know none of what was said by them is true, it still sucks. Words stick.

There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m normal. I’m who I am and nobody will keep me quiet.

A few months ago, I told another family member I was gay. Yes, it was during a heated political argument once again. Maybe it’s not the best time to tell family I’m gay, but alas. It happened. Through text, I was “laughed” at and told that the joke was on me because they always knew I was gay. When I said I kept quiet because I feared the reaction, they said I was simply trying to shift the blame to somebody besides myself. Again, it was my fault. Maybe in part it was, but the fault doesn’t rest solely on my shoulders for keeping silent.

And then I was told that my dad had always hoped my mom would pass away before she found out I was gay because of the trauma he feared it would cause her.

Just… take a moment to consider that.

Thinking about that too much makes me angry and sad.

I’m sure their side of the story would be vastly different as an attempt to save face, to save names, would be made. But the damage is done. The words have been spoken. It hasn’t been an easy process; it was never going to be.

I posted on Facebook (ya, I’m back on there for some reason) that I was gay and mentioned some of what I faced from family due to being gay. I was met with an abundance of support and love from friends and people I haven’t talked to in years. I had some people reach out privately to me, saying that too, were living their truth in secret for now.

I noticed I was completely blocked by both parents, not that it mattered. We have vastly different views of the world and politics, of what humanity looks like. But that’s a story for another post. One of them tried to call me a few hours after my post; I ignored the call. I can only imagine the screaming and yelling I would’ve been met with. I’d probably be told I was selfish to post that, to expose my gay nature to others, to talk about the words said upon me coming out. But I don’t regret it. It needed to be said because this kind of shit happens to people daily.

There’s no mystery as to why suicide rates amongst the LGBT+community are high. It’s because of stuff like this. I mean I’d be lying if I said I never contemplated that path growing up or even weakly tried it.

People need to know that it’s okay to be who you are. I know it’s a cliche thing to say, but I can’t stress the freedom that comes with being honest with who you are and being open about it–to not hide. I used that as a brief lesson with my students when talking about being true to your identity during a ROAR lesson. I told them I was gay because how could I tell them to be true to their identity yet still hide mine? I had to be vulnerable and trust them as human beings. None of them reacted poorly. They actually hardly flinched, but they were all smiles. And I love them for that. To them, it didn’t seem abnormal at all. There’s hope for the future.

I don’t regret coming out, nor should I. I’m proud. I’ll never forget a line Jennifer Lawrence says in the movie X-Men: First Class. Despite persecution against who she was born as, a mutant, she finally says, “Mutant and proud.” That always stuck with me. I’m gay and proud.

I’m just glad I’m not the same person I was ten years ago. As I said earlier, education is a powerful thing. It has allowed me to be more informed, more accepting, and a better human. It doesn’t mean I’m flawless. I have much to learn. There’s a lot of education still to be had as I try to see past my White privilege, to continue living my truth, and working to be the best I can be.

So, be yourself. Be true. Be open. If you’re afraid, I get it. I’ve been there. Will you lose friendships or maybe even family by being true to yourself? It’s hard to say for sure. Whatever your truth is, whatever you feel you have to hide from those around you, don’t. Life’s too short to keep parts of yourself hidden. If you hide in the dark, that darkness will infest your mind. It will whispers lies to you, make you feel like garbage, and shame you. Relentlessly. But if you open yourself up–if you let the light in–nothing can squash who you are. You can live your life free and happy. The risk is worth it.

There’s a powerful song that I adore, a song that captures everything about this process. I want you to listen to it. No, I want you to do more than listen to it. I want you to hear it in your heart. I want you to study the lyrics. Embrace them. Live them. Maybe you need to listen to the song multiple times. Sit back. Close your eyes. Let this piece of art work inside you as it has for me. Be empowered.

Make no apologies. Don’t let the shame sink in. Burst through the barricades. Be warriors. Don’t let people break you down to dust because there’s a place for you. BE YOU!

Be fierce.

And see The Greatest Showman if you’ve never seen it because that song (in context) is such a powerhouse. It captures the message.

I’ll leave you with this, something I told my students when I came out to them, something to fight the fear of being true and open to those around you:

The people who matter will accept you as you are.

Back to Reality, Back to Battle

FeaturedBack to Reality, Back to Battle

Since my Caliventure experience, it’s taken some time to return to the world of adulthood.

And, spoiler alert, I’m not a fan.

That’s not to say that there aren’t some good moments going on. There are. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t some bumpy moments happening either. And by bumpy moments, I mean a resurfacing of past demons.

On a more physical sense, it took me a couple of days to readjust to the altitude and, more or less, stop suffering from what I presumed to be a mix of jet lag and altitude sickness. I mean driving my own car back in Pennsylvania was enough to make me nauseated. I was ready to give up driving for the rest of my life.

Then some highs and lows hit me.

Randomly. Without warning.

During the teacher in-service week, I recall sitting down at a faculty lunch. When I sat down, I was fine. But, like a switch had been flicked, my mood darkened and the tendrils of depression started gripping me once more. It was so sudden. So unexpected. Crippling. I turned into the cloud at the table. I didn’t interact with people. I don’t think it was noticed much, if at all. To keep it that way, I ended up retreating from the social environment, vanishing into my classroom.

I’m being reminded of just how complex mental health is. Or, maybe, it’s not so much of being reminded as it is continuing to learn what this process is truly like. So many times I think people assume depression and anxiety can be cured like one can cure the flu or the common cold.

“Here, you sad person you, take these pills. In a few days your symptoms will wear off and VIOLA! You’ll be healthier than ever.” #Winning

Except, that’s a mainstream myth that only people who suffer from depression and anxiety realize. The people around them? Well, they can never fully understand that, despite their best intentions. Winning is a daily process with mental health.

As for my highs, I’m so glad to be back with my dog, Logan. I missed him immensely and it means the world to me to be able to curl up on the coach with him once more, using him as my favorite pillow and telling him how much I love him and how much of a good boy he is. I’d be lost without him. I really would. Next time I go on an adventure, I want him to come with me. He’s my sidekick.

I have been happy to be back in the classroom. Frankly, I love my kids. I always have loved the kids I get. This year feels fresh in so many ways because it’s the first year where I can devote the majority of my time into my classroom. I don’t have to worry about the huge demands of directing the drama club productions this year. I can focus on teaching. Focus on my students. Focus on me. I’ll miss drama, but I’m excited to see what this year holds without it.

I’m already having more time to do different things. I was able to put a lot of time (and money I really don’t have) into my classroom. For real, it’s been completely overhauled with cozy lighting, a reading nook, and Marvel decorations. I assigned an array of diverse and powerful Marvel characters to each my classes; characters that are younger, a new generation–characters I want the kids who love Marvel to get to know and explore. I have a Shuri class, the sister of Black Panther (and sometimes Black Panther herself in the comics) and African Princess; there’s an Ironheart class, an intelligent young Black woman named RiRi Williams was a mentee to Tony Stark, a girl who fashioned her own iron suit–fantastic character; I set up a Ms. Marvel class, the first Muslim-American superhero with shapeshifting abilities that pale in comparison to her incredible heart; there’s a Ghost-Spider class (also known as Spider-Gwen), the punky White girl who is an all-out boss with her spider abilities; and then there’s my Spider-Man class fashioned after the Miles Morales version, the middle-school aged bi-racial Black/Puerto Rican boy who has to fill the roles of the iconic Spider-Man after he’s bit by a strange spider.

I know that may not seem like a big deal to you all as my readers. But for me? It’s huge. I want to create a classroom where all are welcome. I want to make sure I’m representing all voices. These characters are a start and for every character, I made sure to buy some of their graphic novels so the kids could get to know them.

It was funny because in my Ironheart class a young boy was heard saying, “Ironheart? Who’s she? And why are we a classroom set up after a girl?”

I smiled and said, “She’s an incredible character. You should be honored! She’s got so much heart and loyalty.”

Another boy was quick to ask, “Mr. H, do you have Ironheart’s graphic novel? I want to know more about her!”

It filled me with joy during the first week, a week I always get anxious and excited over. It’s a week where building relationships is key. I love taking the time getting to know my new students, kids I hope to each and also learn from over the next nine months.

These moments fill me with such joy. I’m teaching lessons with passion. Grading essays with more thought because, yes, I already assigned writing to the poor souls.

But there’s a part of me that still wishes I was on the West Coast, having adventures.

Exploring.

Hiking.

Taking risks.

Seeing the world.

Ignoring adult responsibilities.

As I said in my season finale post, I’ll never forget the lessons California taught me. While my bank account and finances were hit majorly from my trip, I don’t regret what I did. I’d do it again. I learned much about myself. About the world. About nature. It gave me hope. Joy. Happiness.

My return to the adult world has been jarring at times. As I said, I’ve had my ups, but I’m having my lows.

Random bursts where I just lay around and stare at the wall, despite the fact I’m on my anti-depressant medication. And, yes, I Googled whether it was possible for my body to build a tolerance to the meds. And, yes, it’s possible.

I suspect that’s what’s happening and that I might need to talk to my doctor about this. Which, sadly, means more medical bills I can’t pay. A 20 minute session with a doctor costs me almost $100, and that’s with insurance.

It’s getting worse. My mood swings. This past week I spiraled into it a bit more. No motivation. No drive. Last weekend, a friend I work with invited me to her place for a pizza party. I was immobile on my couch, unable to do anything all day, hiding from the world.

Right now, I’m struggling to understand how to prevent myself from self-destructing some friendships that mean a lot to me, from pushing away people I care about. I have a friend who’s done a lot for me, but a friend who doesn’t know how to best support me anymore. So this friend has put up barriers around themself because they don’t want to take on the battle I, myself, have to deal with. While it’s hard to process this friend’s words, I can’t necessarily blame them. This friend is probably right: I have to take care of me. Once I do that, things will fall into place.

I’m trying to grasp and understand it. And I also know that it doesn’t mean I won’t face this mental health issue more in the future. I just have to get better at parrying it, like it’s an epic lightsaber duel on Mustafar between Master and Padawan. Every blow violent and striking, but every swing met with equal resistance. And maybe I’ll stumble here and there because it takes energy to stay on your feet. One wrong step and a mortal wound could slice through you–through me. But, sticking to the analogy, I have to use the Force… use what I know, my weapons, and the strength within to fight back.

It’s not going to be something that permanently goes away. It’ll always be there. Always ready to pounce. Dark vs. Light. Depression vs. Joy.

That’s what it means to be back to reality–to face life head-on. I’m not hiking through the wilderness of California anymore. I’m hiking through the unpredictable forests of life, and I can’t let my guard down. I have to do whatever it takes to take care of myself for myself. For my friends. For my family. For my team. For my students.

I may stumble, like I did on the powerful slopes of Mt. Shasta, but I have to keep going.

And I have to stop using metaphors because, really, how many can I pull out? The answer is… a lot. I mean I am listening to epic instrumental music while writing this, so… are you surprised?

Anyway, life has been interesting since returning. I thought my adventure ended when I left the West Coast. But really? I think that’s where it all began. It’s where my perspective shifted, where I gained back some confidence and willpower, where I overcame fears. And California Josh came back to the East Coast. He’s adjusting. He’s slipping.

But he’s still on an adventure.

Because do adventures ever really end?

2018: This Is Me

2018: This Is Me

Wow. 2017 is gone and I’m glad for it.

2018 has just begun. We are three days in. I’m still not sure how to respond to it. I mean the year started with my favorite football team, the Michigan Wolverines, losing their bowl game and bringing shame to the Big 10. What’s lurking around the corner now?

You know, I thought long and hard before writing this post. It’s the obligatory “It’s a new year, new me” blog post impulse. And you know what? Every dang year the same thing happens. I devise a list of goals certain I’ll succeed and then I fail. Do I dare set myself up for failure again this year?

Yes, because I’m a fool.

But maybe it’s also because I have a warrior deep within me that strives to rise up above failures.

You see, there seems to be something strangely different about this coming year. This past year has been a crazy one with friends, family, and this destructive political climate we are in. (Can 2018 please be the year Trump is impeached?!) I’ve endured things, learned things, and persevered through things I didn’t quite expect–I still am.

And maybe it’s not about going into 2018 a bit different. Maybe it’s just that I’ve decided that I’m done being the person people WANT me to be. Growing up, there was this expectation to live a certain way, to think a certain way, to be blind to a world of facts. To challenge that, to think differently, and to think for myself has been me with quotes such as “You have not changed in a good way”, or “What did we do wrong to make you like this?”, or “Where is this coming from?”, or even “There’s no hope for you anymore”.

It’s cost me relationships with both friends and family. I can’t deny that it might sting a bit, but I also can’t deny that it feels good to let go of such narrow-minded thinking and embrace who I truly am. Being who people WANT and HOPE me to be is exhausting. I’m breaking out of that mold.

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My favorite scene from Agents of Shield resonates with me right now. Break. Out. Of. The. Mold. Except I’m not Daisy Johnson 

I can’t be defined by the expectations of others. I should only be defined by the reality of who I really am. I can’t linger on worrying about what people in the past might think about me. I can only hope the people who matter will accept my freedom and champion me on the sidelines.

Therefore, I’m not making any apologies. I’m moving forward. I’m thankful that I have a small group of friends that I can call my family along with some dedicated family members who love who I truly am instead of being disappointed in who I am.

Trust me. 2017 has been a mess of me “disappointing” people who think I should be somebody else–somebody fake. Well, no more.

That’s all changing and as a result I’m trying to set my sights on new things and dreams. As 2018 cements itself into my life, I’m setting out to accomplish a few things. And I will not fail.

  • After being inspired by a friend of mine who did this in 2017, I’m going to run a 5k everyday of the year. I know it will not be easy and that I’ll want to give up, but I’m doing my best to stick to it. I’ve already accomplished it every day so far. If I can’t make a run happen due to knee issues, I’ll bike a 5k. No excuses. It’s literally a half hour out of my day and I should be able to manage that. With each run, I will envision myself breaking out of the past mold. It will keep me focused.

 

  • I’m only eating between 8AM and 8PM. I’m not having super strong dietary restrictions because that just doesn’t work well long-term. However, I’m a bit mindful of what I’m putting into my body. I’ve read that eating on a schedule like that actually maintains weight loss. I just know that I can’t make pizza and ice cream my main foods during that time period.

 

  • I plan to read two books a month at least. I can do it. It just means prioritizing my time better. I’ve really fallen in love with reading all over again lately. Good books, cups of coffee, and my little reading nook has been my favorite thing over the past week of my life. It’s been a nice shelter from negativity and a nice escape from reality.

 

  • I’m sticking to a budget this year. I’ve laid it all out and I’m committing to it. I’m not using my debit card unless it’s to pay for gas. Everything else will be cash payments to keep myself focused. I’m in an incredible amount of credit card debt and student loan debt. I’m a teacher so I don’t make big bucks. I’ve accepted I’ll probably be in debt until I’m 80 years old. However, I can’t just roll over and let the debt continue to build. I may be living paycheck to paycheck, but maybe in time and with budgeting, I’ll rise above the mountain of debt.

 

  • I’m hoping to finish writing a book by the end of the year. What book? Who knows. I’m still wrestling with my Aedonu Chronicles, still fighting my middle school story, and breathing life into a dark tale of Peter Pan. What story will come out victorious by 2019? Writing is my passion, but it’s also such a hard thing to do with my busy life. I just hope writing isn’t one of those dreams that just remains a dream. I hope one day it becomes a reality.

 

  • I’m also disabling my Facebook account for the month of January to see how much time I gain back. I might even keep it disabled longer. I’m always on there, scrolling through mindless posts and videos. Time to destroy that. Plus, it comes with unwanted drama. You see, I’m very political because I care about people and the world. It’s hard for me to be silent when the current administration doesn’t hold human beings and love at its core values. Therefore, time to axe out the negative and distracting Facebook. I’ll be on Twitter and Instagram instead which I spend far less time on.

 

And with that, I’m done ranting about 2018. Ranting does nothing. Action does.

Be who you want to be in 2018. Make no apologies This is me. Who are you?

I leave you with that question and with my new anthem, which I fell in love with from the movie The Greatest Showman. Listen to this song. Study the lyrics. Cherish it. This is what I’m going into 2018 with. Join me and make NO apologies about it.

2018 is the year of being free.

 

The Woes of Time & the Curse of Writing

The Woes of Time & the Curse of Writing

Remember that movie Click with Adam Sandler and Kate Beckinsale? The one wherein our protagonist happens to receive a remote that influences/controls life?

Yeah, I need one of those.

I started 2017 with all these hopes of dreams of making this a successful year. Foolishly, I made a resolution list even though I’ve never been known to stick to it.

I was going to be fit and have abs (look out, Captain America), write more (with dreams of publication), read more (an art I miss gravely), and save my money (which I don’t make enough of). So far?

  • I’ve been on a pizza diet which has rendered all sings of fitness and abs obsolete.
  • Writing? What’s that? Who has time to write?
  • Reading.. okay, I’ve been better here. Slightly.
  • Money… well, please see bullet point one. Also? Student loans. Also? I have bad self-control when it comes to all things nerd.

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Literally me leaping into 2017 with all these cool ideas

That’s how 2017 has been rolling with me so far. It’s definitely not a bad year! See below:

  • I have a nephew now of whom I’ve only met once due to living in a different state, but he’s a little guy I love to death.
  • I have a great job teaching middle school English and directing the Drama Club at my school.
  • I have a new car (yeah, maybe that’s another thing worthy to mention about finances).
  • I’ve enjoyed the company of some pretty great friends.

However, I have to say I’m hitting a wall in many ways, and, honestly, I’m super burned out. So… why not blog about it? I mean it only helps me procrastinate the Mt. Everest of things I have to do. Seriously, I have five to-do lists. They don’t get shorter fast enough.

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Lately, my desire to dive headlong into my writing has been growing exponentially. Ironically, this always happens when I have no time to write. Usually, my creative spurts occur at the worse possible times. I really think it’s a curse. If writing stories is my superpower, then the timing of the creative bursts in which I’m inspired to write is my ultimate weakness. I mean, with great power comes great costs and unforeseen side effects. That’s how it goes, right?

And maybe it’s not so much about time as it is that when I do get a moment to slow down from grading papers, I want to just sit and do mindless things such as watch TV (we all know I watch almost everything on the air) or play Destiny 2.

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And I think it’s becoming quite a problem that I don’t know how to fix.

Maybe the solution seems simple to those of you reading this. It may seem easy to say, “Josh, prioritize, for crying out loud! Do better! Make sacrifices! Turn off the TV! Stop playing video games!” but it truly is not that simple because in those “slow down” moments, my mind is fried and video games/Netflix is a loyal comforter that seems to whisper, “There, there, buddy! You’ve done a lot today. Just relax and we will ease your mind.”

Sidenote: Not sure why video games/Netflix just sounded super creepy there. Hmm.

Anyway, I come home from teaching and late night rehearsals with Drama Club, and I turn into a zombie (that eats pizza, of course). Papers to grade continue growing, lesson planning seems harder than it should be, and exhaustion sets in. This leads me to not want to make dinner, but order it–which has become a severe financial problem. When I’m not at home, I’m living, breathing, and eating school and, mainly, the Drama Club program. Sometimes it keeps me up at night, haunting me, taunting me in the form of my long-lost characters that are pleading with me to continue writing their story.

But their story is frozen because their creator is burned out.

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And it’s only the second month of school! One of my closest friends keeps telling me, “Dude, you have to learn to balance. Make time for yourself.” He’s 100% right (don’t tell him I said that!), but I don’t know how to do that. How do I balance such demanding tasks? How do I stop indulging in mindless activities when all my mind needs is a break?

I need one of those Click remotes.

Or maybe I need somebody who isn’t afraid to kick my stubborn butt into accountability.

Or maybe I just need more pizza. Pizza always helps.

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I don’t really have a solution to this blog post. This is a super rare occurrence of me just speaking what’s on my mind. Why? It’s therapeutic. Is it actively solving anything? Nope. But if feels good to air it out.

Yesterday, I was so pumped to leave my apartment the next day to go write one of my stories. But then I was bit by a tick, had to go to the doctor to get checked out, had to do laundry (literally the worst!), and now? Well, it’s midday and I have grading to do and school to prepare for by tomorrow. Not to mention my amazing middle school stars have a play in less than two weeks that I’m helping to oversee–we haven’t even touched the spring musical yet. That alone has a mountain of “to-do’s” that haven’t been started yet.

I just need time. More time because what’s happening to me right now?

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It’s stunting the stories I wish I could tell, locking away Chelsie the Orphan, AJ the Pastor, and Jamey the Hero in a prison within my mind. Their voices are being drowned out by the noise of life and, I fear, they are perishing ever so slowly to a fate worse than the one I have planned for them. If something doesn’t change soon, I’m not sure I’ll be able to tell their stories anymore. If I can’t figure out a way to figure out this balance thing my best friend told me about, my three heroes will never save the dark world I’ve intricately created (and destroyed) in their debut novel. If I can’t let their voices be heard, my unrelated middle school character, Garrett, will never truly figure out if his teacher is, indeed, The Crimson Watcher.

All these stories I want to tell are the very ones suffering because there’s not enough time in the day–or when I do have time, my mind is so far fried, I can’t transcribe the complex lives of my characters.

I can’t even manage to keep mine in order.

So… does anybody have a magic remote they want to let me borrow? Maybe even the Time Turner that Hermione Granger used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban? 

Or maybe you have an idea/some advice to offer so I don’t burn out completely, thus eternally damning my characters to an unspeakable fate?

Maybe I just need a vacation. Who wants to go to the moon with me? I’ll bring the pizza.

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2016 vs. 2017: Battling for Identity

Sometimes I just need to write my thoughts, my ideas, my intentions. Other times I like to say I’ll write them down, but I never do.

For example, I last blogged on February 14th, 2016 with every intention of blogging regularly.

I failed. Obviously.

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And in many ways I think that’s pretty much what 2016 was for me. A bunch of strange failures. Now, don’t read that and say, “What a pessimist! Don’t be so hard on yourself! Stop it!”  But being hard on myself is kind of something I do. That being said, I don’t think it was a terrible year. However, it wasn’t a majorly successful year, either. It’s one I look back on and think, “Meh.”

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Pretty much how 2016 has treated me

Looking back, 2016 has given me a drive to change a lot of things in 2017; things I’m growing passionate about more and more each day. I’m dividing this blog into two halves. The first half I’ll discuss what didn’t work for 2016. The second? You guessed it! I’ll discuss my plans for 2017. If you find my boring rambling entertaining, then buckle up. If you think I’m a moron and dry, then please continue reading to reaffirm your opinion of me. Either way, it’s a win-win. Right? Plus, I have an addiction to GIFS. Be prepared.

2016: The Year of Stunted Growth

Writing:

You know I finished my first book I was proud of late 2015. I mean it was a grueling yet passionate process that yielded my first complete and ready to publish manuscript.

It’s the first of a dark and gloomy trilogy called The Aedonu Trilogy #1: Shadows in the Darkness. It’s pretty much about the end of the world, kicking off with a worldwide earthquake that deeply impacts the lives of three different characters. Each character struggles with their identity while the whole world turns into a depiction of absolute hell. They struggle with being heroes, having faith in a Creator, death, acceptance, and believing in the impossible–becoming the impossible. You know, totally normal everyday things. Just…in an impossible situation.

It’s a story that means a lot to me and I almost got it published back in February. I had a request from a publisher for a full manuscript. Crazy awesome, right?!

Ultimately, however, they decided not to pick it up to publish it. Not so awesome.

I would be lying if I were to say that experience didn’t both build up my confidence and, yet, dash it into a thousand pieces. I was left scrambling with so many questions: What do I do to change it? Can I change it? How can I tweak the story to make it more presentable? Can I even handle this anymore? Is the story worth it?

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Deep questions for a writer. Throttling questions. So I did what any logical person would do, especially after the growing list of rejection letters from other publisher.

I dropped the project.

I abandoned it, heartbroken in many ways, and fled even though I still believed believe greatly in its potential. You see, that story is super complex. It made me do some soul searching in a time where I had no time to search my writing soul. Therefore, I turned to writing a middle school realistic story about a kid who believes his English teacher is a superhero (wishful thinking, perhaps?). It’s a story that is a whole heck of a lot less complicated. It’s another story I believe in, but it’s also one that I haven’t “connected” with 100% which means it hasn’t been wholly productive.

All that to say….2016 stunted the writer within me. Maybe almost destroyed him. Perhaps obliterated him.

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Fitness:

I began a health journey back in 2012. I went from 225 lbs. to 165 lbs. in a matter of seven months! It was amazing, hard, and so rewarding. Since then I’ve been much more careful about what I eat and more conscious of staying active to avoid becoming 225 again. After an intense seven months, I actually had a lean body with a few abs showing! It was awesome.

Then I fell madly in love with pizza and milkshakes over the years once more.

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Those items and I have an abusive relationship. During 2016 I’ve had some good workouts and runs. I started around 198 lbs and worked down to 178. And now I’ve worked back up to 198 (I just weighed myself..and in my sadness I’m eating a cookie).

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Look, I’m an emotional eater. Don’t judge me.

I actually joined a gym back in November after a good friend of mine convinced me to.

It hasn’t been entirely fruitful. I’ve been binging on pizza, cookies, pop/soda, and chips vehemently the past few weeks. Also? Candy. Maybe some eggnog too. Oh, did I mention cookies? Maybe some wine as well. Yeah. You see the problem? I also make a lot of excuses to not work out.

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Plus, what if I went and looked like this?

So…with all that combined…..2016 has pretty much threatened my health.

Finances:

Look. I’m never going to be a millionaire. Ever. It’s a nice dream, but I’m a teacher with over $100,000 in student loans. I wish I was kidding about that amount of student debt. I’m not. And I absolutely love my job as a teacher. I’m never abandoning it, so I accept I’ll never be rich.

But that means I need to be smart with my money. This year I haven’t been that smart.

  • I’ve been collecting Funko POPS! like crazy. (Awesome collectables, but can get pricey)
  • I’ve been eating out. A lot. (See above category on fitness).
  • I went through a comic book purchasing phase from June-August. It turns out buying comics gets pricey when you read a lot. (Like $50-$60 a week in comics!)

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There goes my money…

I tried two months of Dave Ramsey’s plan to budget where you put cash into envelopes and spend only that money on things. It worked well for those two months. Then I got lazy and stopped withdrawing cash from the ATM because, well, it required me to drive to the bank. And we can’t have that, can we? No. It’s a lot of work!

So, naturally, I stopped budgeting and my eating out habits increased until last week when my car pretty much broke down and I needed a new battery. I went to spend the $100 for it and was informed my account had insufficient funds.

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Awkward. Pizza clearly betrayed me because, well, pizza on a night to night basis adds up.

Thank you, 2016, for turning me into a financially unstable man. (Disclaimer: finances and stability don’t work well together for  me.)

Current Standings

2016: 500

Me: 0

YAY!

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So, what’s next?

2017: The Year of Growth

First, let me acknowledge that I’ve strayed from making New Years Resolutions because I usually break them by the end of the day on January 3rd in some way, shape, or form. Why create them when they will simply be destroyed? It makes me feel awful. Plus, resolutions are simply begging to be broken. It’s like the fine print within the word resolution.

So, these are not necessarily resolutions as much as they are new life goals. In my mind, it always helps me to start something at the beginning of the month. It just so happens that the beginning of the next month is 2017. Therefore, I have some goals I’m going to fight to complete.

  • Writing:
    • Rework, tweak, refocus, and publish The Aedonu Trilogy.
    • Write at least once or twice a week
    • Saturday mornings = designated writing time
    • No excuses–I’m not hiding from my story.
    • Goal #1: Get published and/or finish writing The Aedonu Trilogy #2: Flames in the Darkness
    • Goal #2: Try to write at a minimum one blog post a month. However, I’d love to make it weekly. Start small, though, right?

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  • Reading:
    • Make time to read.
    • Read every night right before bed–even if it’s just for ten minutes.
    • Goal: Finish at least one book a month. Minimum of reading 12 books in 2017 (which should be attainable easy enough).

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  • Fitness:
    • Workout five times a week–which means going to the gym I’m paying for
    • Only one cheat meal permitted a week, mainly in the form of pizza.
    • Only eat out once a week, mainly in the form of pizza.
    • Goal: Regain my lean form and have some semblance of abs by March

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  • Finances:
    • Hardcore budget my money every month, which means withdrawing cash and putting into envelopes
    • No cash? No pizza treat once a week.
    • Stop impulse buying–I struggle there.
    • Goal: Have enough money at the end of the year for a new car

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Okay, so they aren’t resolutions, but they are goals. Goals are a destination to be reached vs. an absolute to keep in check from day one. You can stumble in your goals, but still achieve them. I feel like once you break a resolution, it’s easy to give it up for the rest of the year. Having distinct goals may help me stay on track in these four areas of my life.

Focusing more on writing will impact my reading a lot more and vice versa. In the same sense, if I’m more self-disciplined in staying fit, I know that I’ll be more self-disciplined in my finances. Those always seem to highlight one another.

2017 should be a wild ride, but I hope it’s one that’ll show 2016 it didn’t knock me out.

While 2016 revealed my weak areas in various ways, 2017 should be a year that empowers me in so many more ways.

Let’s do this, 2017. It’s morphin’ time!

darce-montgomery-in-power-rangers

 

The Great Return…

Blogging.

A simple eight letter word of the 21st century.

For the past few weeks, “blogging” has been weaving its way through my cinematic daydreams, whispering into my ears , and compelling me to sit down and actually pay attention to it. Time has battled this word, as I am a pretty busy man. However, considering the fact that you’re reading this right now, it would seem this urge to blog has won. I am a prisoner to it now.

But that’s not a bad thing.

In many ways, I think I need a place to uncoil my rampant thoughts. A realm to tap into whatever my mind is wrestling with and express it to the world. Maybe I’ll be talking to myself on here, or maybe you’ll find that you’re invested in the strange events of my life. DUSTY  VINTAGE KEYBOARD

By day I’m a middle school English teacher, which ensures that I never endure a dull moment. By night I am a conglomarete being that inhales Netflix like it’s a drug, reads books for sustenance, and pours out my very soul in the stories that I dare to write. Passionate stories. Dark stories. Magical stories.

I suppose that’s why I have returned to the blogging realm. In the past, I’ve tried to manage blogs solely centered on movie reviews. That never worked.

But now?

Now, I am creating a space where I can write about whatever I want, whenever I want, wherever I want. Words are not meant to be limited. I intend to express myself in this space. Maybe I’ll tell wild stories about my adventures as a middle school teacher–stories I simply can’t make up. Perhaps I’ll write entries where I rant about the fact that there is literally no local coffee shops near me to write my logic-defying fiction. (Honestly, it’s a real problem!) Or maybe I’ll just talk to you, to myself, to whoever is listening, to anybody who needs it. Sometimes I may even be silent, taking in this chaotic force we call everyday life.

Regardless, my presence will linger here. This is my place. This is your place. This is the battlefield where that eight-letter word “blogging” won. 

Stick around if you dare, leave if you must. If you stay, we will sort through the world together. If you leave, I’ll wave and wish you well. After all, we are on different paths, right? Sometimes, though, it’s just nice to enjoy the ride together…

Welcome to my world…