19 August 2017

Welcome to the Shitshow

Adults lie all the time. And I'm not talking about the obvious Santa Claus-Easter Bunny-Tooth Fair lies. Those are relatively innocuous. In fact, the worst lie isn't even something adults actually say--it's a lie we tell everyday in just existing. A lie we tell in every move we make as adults. I don't know if adults even know we're lying. But we do it. All. the. time.

So here's the truth, people-who-can't-rent-a-car-yet (that's my adult threshold): Adults are messy. And none of them--not a single solitary one--has their shit together.

I mean, none of them.

Shit is everywhere. Everywhere.

Most young people think that, once they're bonafide adults, they'll have their lives figured out. The chaos and uncertainty will fade and suddenly it'll all make sense. I know I believed this. I believed that when I was a real adult--when that would happen was a little hazy--I would suddenly find myself competent at things like insurance and taxes, home maintenance and gardening, politics and geopolitical positioning. And most importantly, I thought navigating life would get easier. I thought adults just knew... whatever. All of it.

I'm 33. Guess what? I have no fucking clue.

Because part of what I've realized since becoming an adult is that no one ever has it together. Not really, and certainly not all the time. Life is messy and chaotic and everyone is just doing the best they can. Adults screw up all the time. This summer? Oh, I screwed up this summer. And another part of being an adult is realizing that sometimes when you screw up--when you ruin a relationship--the damage isn't fixable. And that thought will make you weepy. And anxious. And really angry. But you're an adult. So you act like everything's fine in public and just weep in your car to Biggy's "Big Poppa" when no one's looking.

Like I said: shit everywhere.


Being an adult has been a process of realizing that everyone lives their life in various states of shambles. There's no age where anyone suddenly gets a handbook that tells you how to react in every situation, how to manage every sort of stress, or prepare for every sort of disaster. Is there a good way to handle a cancer diagnosis? The death of a friend? The sudden implosion of a friendship you valued? It's always going to be messy.

But here's the amazing part: we don't need to have it all together. Some days--weeks, months even-- I've got it together. Other times, I settle for having all my shit in the same room. Some days even that is too much.

The real secret of being an adult is realizing you will never quite be able to believe this is happening to you. You'll never be magically competent. You'll never stop vaguely feeling like a bit of a fraud as you go do this whole adult thing. You'll see other adults and believe they know more than you do--that they're better at this adulting thing. They don't and they're not. But for some reason we're all really invested in believing that isn't true because it's terrifying to think everyone else is just as bemused by this as we are.

So that's the secret. Life is, in actuality, one big shitshow. And sometimes that's awful. Sometimes that means you cry to 90s rap in your car or text your friend to ask if it's really so bad to drink alone with your dog at 3pm (those are true stories--being an adult is weird).

But sometimes, sometimes that shitshow is beautiful. Because there's beauty in resilience and perseverance and starting over. There's beauty in knowing that we all live through our own private wars, and that we all carry our own private battle scars. And oh my there is beauty in knowing that no matter how many times the world ends, the sun will come up and there is a chance to start it over again the next day.

And, until then--until you can see the beauty in it all--you're an adult.

So you know, you can always take up day drinking.

12 August 2017

The Room Where it Happens

When I was sixteen, my friends and I sat down to watch the National Champion in Original Oratory, Jared Weiss, on my friend's VCR in his basement. We watched Weiss's speech. Then we rewound (I'm old, y'all. This was 2000) and watched again. And again. And again.

We talked endlessly about being on that stage--being in that room. And I have never been the same.

This past summer, I once again found myself watching Nationals, but this time I wasn't in front of TV or computer. This time I was sitting in Birmingham, Alabama, surrounded by 3,500 speech people watching it all in person. That's when it hit me. Oratory had just finished and we were waiting for awards. I looked around and suddenly felt my heart stutter. Here I was. Sitting in the room where it happens. At last. And not only was I sitting where it happens, but that year, I had been a part of it all happening. I had a student break to semifinals--she finished the tournament 10th in the nation. I was finally a part of this thing I'd always watched from a distance, but never really thought I could do. In that moment, I teared up and quietly whispered thank you. I don't know if my students heard me. I couldn't find the words to tell them how proud I was of them, how overwhelmed I was to be there--and to be there with them. I don't know that they really understood what it all meant to me. They probably never will.


But four years ago one of those same students, upon qualifying for State as a freshman, hugged me tearfully and said, "I've never been good at anything." Until then.  He went on to win the State Championship as a junior. And as a senior.

And sitting in that room, surrounded by those people, well I wanted to look back at him and repeat the same words.

"I've never really been good at anything."

Until now.

I'm not the best coach. I've often wondered what my students could do if they had someone else working with them--someone with more experience, more theater background, more creativity, more anything. I've had students succeed in speech--national semifinalists, and state finalists, and even a state champion. But so often those are students who are extraordinary already. So often I feel as though I just watch them succeed. So often I am merely a passenger on their journey.

And yet, sitting in that room--I felt a certainty that I am at least heading down the right path. I'm doing something I'm supposed to be doing. Coaching speech brings me more joy than I thought possible. I've met some of the most beautiful people through this activity. I've gotten to watch students find their voices. I've watched them discover parts of themselves they didn't know they had. I've watched them find passion, find confidence, find power and strength in their words. I've watched them move mountains. And I never get tired of watching them.

My students don't get the recognition they deserve. We are four-time Section Champions, have a two-time State Champion, and a National top ten finisher. We got one mention in the newspaper. The girls' basketball team gets at least one per week even now, six months after their season ended. Our school will not support our trips to Nationals. Our Activities Director and Administrator couldn't tell you how many people are on our team or where we compete.

And yet.

And yet there we sat. Me with two of the most inspiring students I've ever had the privilege to work with. There we sat--a girl who tried to quit the team as a sophomore because she didn't think she'd ever be able to memorize a whole speech; a boy who had never believed he could compete and win. A coach who'd watched from afar and been intimidated by the talent and genius I'd seen in others. That day we were different. The girl who almost quit was tenth in the nation. The boy who'd never won was a two-time state champion.

And that coach who'd watched from afar? She was sitting between them, in love with them, with the activity, with being a part of it all.

We were all quietly in love in that moment. One student leaned her head on my shoulder and whispered, "Thank you." My other student looked at me--a little teary himself--and mumbled "Love you." And we all just sat there and took it in.

Finally in the room where it happens.