Recap of “2020 – The Year of Saying No”

In January, I wrote this post about saying no, my theme for this year. It came off the coattails of the Year of Being Honest. I haven’t picked a personal theme for 2021 yet, but thought I would recap and expound on the list of things I wanted to do for 2020.

  • Reading. Lots and lots of it. Mostly in front of my YouTube fireplace. With a dog. And a blankie. Because 10-year-old Elizabeth is resurfacing. My current goal is to read 40 books this year.

I have read 65 books as of December 25, 2020. Most were fiction, fantasy to be exact. 29 out of the 65 were nonfiction, a bit surprising as I counted them up. I read a couple of series and trilogies that blew me away and kept me coming back for more. Currently, I’m starting a re-read on A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas since 1) my sister gifted me the hardcovers of this series and 2) the new book comes out in February.

  • Spiritual introspection and discipline. Continuing to find new ways of approaching my Christian faith in a way that edifies myself and the Church.

This one I didn’t dive too deep into, honestly. Church has been weird this year with the pandemic, and I found myself more often than not not tuning into the virtual services and instead enjoying my Sunday morning like the rest of the world. Does that sound bad? I don’t know. I do know that I’ve needed a break because I’ve been doing the Sunday-morning-Church-thing for 30 years of my life. As far as exploring my own spirituality and having discipline, I would say regular therapy sessions and the books I read (yes, the fiction too!) have helped me immensely in that area.

I’ve also been focusing this year on uniting my body and my spirit/mind this year. After years of infertility and in general kind of hating my body at different times for different reasons, it was high time to relearn how I can love myself instead of look in the mirror with disdain. Which brings me to…

  • Exercise that isn’t running. Gasp. Hold the damn phone. I know. This year I think might be a running sabbatical.

Most of 2020 was a running sabbatical I had a few races lined up, and completed two. In December I attempted a 5K a day but for about a week and a half I’ve been nursing runner’s knee in my right knee. I hope to get back out there in the beginning of 2021. After a break from regular training, I realize how integral running has been in my life, and how there is a magic that happens. I run, I feel better. It’s amazing.

  • Making good food in my beautiful kitchen.

This was an easy one to hit with the pandemic. I would call my cooking style “Bougie Midwestern comfort food”… all the things I loved growing up like shepherd’s pie, roast, corn chowder, pizza.. but with higher quality ingredients and more that’s homemade. We also began buying veggies from a local CSA and in 2021 we will be subscribers to the CSA on a weekly basis. I think we’ve eaten at a restaurant a handful of times in the past 9 months, and gotten delivery on average once every 10 days or so. I tried my hand at sourdough, which was kind of a failure, but I found a new recipe for a starter so I will try that and see how it goes. I’ve gotten really good at using up leftovers and veggies about to go bad. In this area, 2020 has been a HUGE success.

  • Drinking less caffeine. Also on the list of things that don’t make sense.

Hmm. Well. This did not happen. Ha! However, since the end of May, the number of alcoholic drinks I’ve had I can count on one hand. THAT is a huge feat for me, and I really don’t see alcohol playing a role, if at all, in my 2021 plans. It’s all a part of saying no to the things that don’t serve me anymore.

  • Being honest about who I am and what I want out of life. Approaching my weirdness with a curiosity rather than contempt.

This has not been easy, and I’m still not there yet. With some work changes, I have pinned down some criteria for how I want to continue in my job. Teaching is not easy right now, and with big changes on the horizon with a new Secretary of Ed, budget cuts, and virtual learning, it’s good to have some boundaries and expectations for my own career. I’ve thought a lot about switching careers or finding a new teaching job, but I haven’t made any hard decisions about it. I’m content where I am.

  • Connecting with family and friends.

This has been a constant in my life, mostly because we live far away from all family and most friends. I don’t have Facebook or Instagram anymore, so that can make it difficult though not impossible to keep in touch. The video chatting app Marco Polo has been the real MVP here – especially with keeping in touch through time zones.

  • Reflecting and revising my teaching practice.

This has happened naturally with the changes brought about by the pandemic. I have always been computer and tech savvy, and I brought that into my work more this year. I’ve finally cracked the code (for me) on how to make lesson planning easier to do. I’ve become a Google Slides hero. And overall, I would say with the changes this year (new school, new grade level) things are going well. It feels good to have tenure and several years in K-12 ESOL behind me. That’s definitely a first for me in my career. AND I love being back in high school.

  • Making the bed every day (???)

We do this. We make the bed every work day. And it’s a habit I won’t ever stop because it starts the day off right.

Making amends

For a long time I was at odds with my own past. My own experiences. It’s a weird place be to because there’s animosity and sadness and regret, but the only person it’s directed to is the person in the mirror. Or out into the void. It’s very confusing.

I went to a small private university only 15 minutes away from where I grew up. It was the only college I applied to, and with my grades, GPA, and “well-rounded” experiences, I knew I would get in, and I did. I was majored in Spanish and secondary education, and I remember with my mom meeting the head of the foreign language department in his dingy office that smelled like old books and cigarette smoke. I was a little unsure of my decision, but my conscience reminded me that this was the only school I applied to, the only one I believed and told I could go to, so I just went with it.

Westlake Hall, Bradley University | where I learned how to be a teacher

And I went with it for four years, four really difficult years. I worked a couple jobs outside of my 15 to 16 hour semesters and carefully plotted my classes so that I could graduate in four years. I even took a literature and an earth science class at the community college and a Spanish grammar class at another university close by so I could transfer the credits.

I lived in my room at my parents’ house, but also out of my car and in the university library. I found solace in coffee and green tea in travel cups and those ridiculously expensive smoothies they served at the student center. I racked up a credit card with purchases of bottled Starbucks frappuccinos.

And then I graduated with about $50,000 in student debt, a mixture of different kinds of loans all with low interest rates (thank goodness). I couldn’t study abroad due to jobs and bills, so I took some loan money and flew to Spain to visit a friend. I went on a missions trip to Bolivia. I tried to have as many immersion experiences in the Latin world so I would be ready to teach Spanish.

For a long time, the student debt hung over me, hung over us. We got married right when I graduated, so then all my private school debt became our private school debt, and I felt horrible about it. Every day. It was a dark cloud hanging over our new life together.

Eventually we paid all of it off (February 2017, nine years after my graduation). That helped me feel better about what I thought was a ridiculously expensive degree and a mediocre experience. Representatives from the university calling me on a Sunday evening asking me for more money couldn’t get off the phone without hearing an earful about how I worked two jobs and now was a teacher who could not afford to give even more money to the institution.

“Mrs. Mercies Per Mile, we’d like to hear about your experience at Bradley. What were some of your favorite extra curricular experiences as a student?” the bright-eyed work-study student would ask.

“My extra curricular experiences involved working two jobs and visiting my long-distance boyfriend. I had no time for anything else, not even friends, because I wanted to escape that expensive place as fast as possible, ” is what I wanted to say. Eventually I stopped answering the calls.

Recently, indirectly, I’ve come to terms with the difficult experience of undergrad. I realize how fortunate I was to even go to college, to have at least one parent who was college educated, and other family members who were, too. To have a working vehicle, and to be employed. To study something that actually has never failed me as far as acquiring skilled work. To study something that gave me a springboard for graduate studies and a slight shift in my career. To have a really solid liberal arts education that got me thinking outside my own world, that actually did a great job of teaching me how to be a teacher (besides the one measly foreign language methods class).

I’ve been back to visit the university only a couple of times in the past 12 years. Once to try to change my name on my diploma (didn’t realize that I couldn’t, and now I don’t want to) and once with my sister just to walk around. I guess you could say I’m not your typical alumnus, going to homecoming, sporting all the gear, reminiscing on the parties and social gatherings (I never did go to a college party…).

This transition in my feelings towards that era of my life is actually a transition in my feelings towards the person I was during that time. I was the extremely busy and overworked person I harp about now. I was nervous and anxious when it came to just about everything. I was very intimidated to speak Spanish or act like I knew anything about the culture. I was unsure of myself in so many ways, and I think I was actually embarrassed of the person I was.

pensive, unsure, full of doubt but trying to make it look like I have it all together
ca. 2006

But it’s okay. I’ve grown a lot in the past 15+ years. I’ve had some incredible experiences in life, in further education, in other cultures that have given me something new to latch onto.

First, I heard that high school was the best time of my life, and then when I got to college I heard that no, that was the best time of my life. Both were not the best time of my life, and it’s very depressing to think that for some people, they peak in high school or college. What about the (hopefully) 60+ years beyond that?

I think making such a black-and-white declaration of what is supposed to be the best time of someone’s life is myopic at best and damning at worst. We don’t know what everyone goes through in those stages. Some people, like me, have hope that other parts of their life will be the best.

For example, the life I’m living now is pretty damn amazing. I have an education, a long-term partner, a beautiful and safe home, a career that’s been built up over many years and experiences. But more than that, I’ve made a series of good decisions (and been a recipient of some blessings and luck) to get me here. Somehow I was able to see beyond the debt and the hardship and the infertility and even the Illinois River Valley to something new, perhaps wild and untamed, but always worth it.

I want to always pine for the life I’m living right now, not get snagged on the hard things in the past, or the attitudes I had, or the person I was. It’s all important and worthy of mention and meditation. All experiences in life converge into one tiny pin prick in the expanse of time – this moment right now.