Tag Archives: reflection

Reflections

My ninth Slice of Life Challenge has come and gone. Just like that, another year down. As I sit here in paradise (more on that in next week’s slice), I am filled with gratitude for the TWT community who put so much time and effort into the challenge each year and for the SOL community whose comments fuel me as a writer.

This year, I began the challenge with excitement and energy, but that excitement quickly waned and I found myself in a bit of a writing slump. Looking back, I think that part of that was that no one I knew in real life joined me on the challenge this year. Shags usually writes, having joined me a few years after I started the challenge, but this year she bowed out, having too much going on to manage the commitment to writing daily. After sharing about the challenge incessantly at school, there’s always one or two people I can convince to write; I am always energized by these new-to-the-challenge writers that I can chat about how the SOL challenge is going for them. This year, no one at school joined the challenge. The final shock came when Elsie, who I don’t know in real life but feel like I do, whose been writing alongside me in the challenge since I began (we started the same year) revealed she wouldn’t be writing this year either.

After the initial slump, I found a groove and the writing came easier (most of the time, that is). My slices were a bit all over the place this year and seemed to be so random, whereas I feel that normally they take on a bit of a theme. This year’s slices included narrative, essay-ish writing, poetry, and photographs. I wrote on a variety of topics, such as travel, reading, the gym, friendship, reflections in general and those from forms (TBAs, Currently, Hello there, Today I…), life abroad, and school.

Sometimes I was proud of my writing, other times I was doing well just to get words on a page. In any event, the SOL challenge serves as a one-month peek into my life, and for that, I’m grateful. Looking back on my slices year on year, I enjoy reliving the memories, laughing at long forgotten stories, and seeing just how far I’ve come in life and as a writer.

Reading and commenting on other slicers’ posts is what this challenge is all about, and this year I’ve been fortunate to deepen my bond with past slicers and make new ones with new slicers. Thank you to all of you who took the time to read and comment on my slices. The comments mean more than you know. 🙂

Here’s to trying to slice on Tuesdays…one down, 51 to go!

Rereading Childhood Favorites

As an avid reader, I’ve been in love with books as long as I can remember. My reward for any good deed I did as a child was a trip to Hasting’s or Half Price Books where my parents would buy me a book (or two or three if I was convincing enough) of my choosing. Frequent visits to the public library were a staple in my summer life. The Scholastic Book Fair was one of the most exciting weeks of the school year, where I was given money and allowed to buy any book my heart desired. Anywhere I went, I carried a book, never wanting to waste a spare moment of time I could have been reading.

Needless to say, I amassed a long list of favorite books as a child, ones that I recommended frequently, sharing the joy they had brought me when I read them. By the time I got into chapter books early on in elementary school, I wasn’t a re-reader. Despite falling in love with different characters and series, I thought it more important to devour new titles rather than spend my time re-reading a book I’d already finished. However, as an adult, I fondly looked back on these childhood favorites and longed to read them again, in hopes of them taking me back to a simpler time, allowing me to experience the joy they once brought me.

Although what I’ve realized through this read down memory lane is that the good memories I have of reading these books as child don’t always translate into my adult reading life and preferences. Oftentimes these revisits leave me empty, wondering why I fell in love with the book in the first place, souring me on the title altogether. It’s a bit like your first love. You look back fondly on the relationship, reliving the highlights, romanticizing the person and wondering why you ever let them go. But when you see them again, you’re let down, doubting your memories and left wondering, What was I thinking?!

So, rather than slog through some of my childhood favorites just to come up short, I’d rather look back on them like an old love, savoring the memories and the good feelings they brought me. In my opinion, it’s better to maintain the illusion than shatter it.

What’s My Thing?

This morning I was catching up on a podcast I enjoy called ‘Out of the Ordinary.’ At the end of Episode 19, “You Called Me WHAT Now?”, Christie and Lisa Jo have a conversation about what their thing is, and it got me thinking, What’s my thing?

For as long as I can recall, talking’s been my thing. I talk fast and often and my stories go on forever. I’m getting much better at being more of a concise writer, however my oral storytelling is anything but. I’m the kind of person who could talk the ear off a mannequin. Put me in a long line, such as waiting for a ride at Disneyland, a grocery store check-out line on a busy day, or waiting in the line at immigration, and I’m bound to make at least one friend. I just can’t help it. I love to talk.

Back in elementary school, I got straight A’s, but the thorn in my parents’ side was the dreaded U I got in “Controls talking” on my report cards. I tried so hard to improve. I sometimes got an N, but never an S or an E. Finally giving up on the idea that I would earn good marks in this category, they were content with anything above a U. By the way, can you imagine if our report cards now had “Controls talking”? Ridiculous!

Most people nowadays prefer a text over a phone call, but I much prefer chatting over the phone rather than typing it all out. I like to hear the infection in the other person’s voice; it tells you so much about how they’re feeling. When I tell my stories, I want them to hear the different voices I use and understand the subtle nuances you can only get when listening. Plus, I want to know if they’re really laughing or just using the obligatory lol. I tend to annoy people when I call out of the blue, without the warning text first, but my friends that really know me get that that’s just me, and they answer most of the time. 😉

When I think about why I have the gift of the gab, I guess it’s because I enjoy making personal connections with other people. Having a conversation with someone helps you get to know them on a different level and develop a stronger bond. Texting is okay, but after a while, the connection between you and the other person wanes, unless you regularly talk to or see them.

Sarcastic banter also fuels me. Paying someone out in a playful way is so much fun, but way easier to do in person. So often written text can be misinterpreted. The reader reads into it, putting their own attitude and spin on it. The subtlety is lost, and unless you really know someone, most sarcastic comments and jokes can come across as mean when sent as written communication.

So, despite the changes in how people communicate lately, where much of it is now virtual and that human connection is lost, I still choose to talk because talking’s my thing.

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Story

“I want people to know your story.”

This quote, among others, resonated with me last night when I watched A Private War, a movie based on the true story of Marie Colvin, a war correspondent who courageously went to the frontlines of war-torn countries to write the stories behind the wars, to know and tell people’s stories in a way that would make others care to listen and take action.

To me, this is the essence of the Slice of Life Challenge. Through our stories, people get to know and care about one another. People want to know your story, and by telling it in an authentic and honest way, they become connected to you and invested in your story.

Through speaking our truth, we reveal ourselves and make genuine connections. Putting the words on the page takes courage, as we might not get it right all the time. Writing our stories is essentially putting ourselves out there for the world to see. Some parts may be pretty, others may not, but that’s real life.

This year I haven’t put myself out there as much as I have in the past. My stories have been more on the superficial, easygoing side. As we glide into the second half of this challenge, I’m going to strive to speak my truth and tell my story in an authentic way, because I want people to know my story.

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Traveling is My Life

Ever since I was little, I’ve dreamt of a life where I get to travel the world, seeing far off places and taking in new experiences. I honestly don’t know where this idea came from. I mean, I grew up in a smallish town in Texas and other than road trips (mostly in Texas), my family didn’t travel much. It’s crazy, but I didn’t go on my first plane ride until I was 16…and that was only to Tennessee! But for whatever reason, I felt this constant pull to just go.

After a couple of international trips in college (to England and Germany), I fulfilled a lifelong dream when I picked up and moved to Australia- Sydney to be exact- right after graduating from college. Australia has and will always hold a special place in my heart, and Sydney is such a beautiful, magical place that you can’t help but fall in love with it. I ended up moving back to Texas after my half-a-year adventure living abroad, where I gained a ton of life experience and independence. It was, after all, the first time I lived anywhere but my childhood home.

Teaching in a suburb of Houston was exciting and I had many positive experiences during my time there, yet I always felt like something was missing. It wasn’t a constant feeling, but it came often enough that after 6 years, I finally listened. That pull to just go was back. I answered it by applying to a little school nestled in the Shanghai Zoo, and knowing nothing whatsoever about China, I picked up and moved halfway across the world.

That was in 2010, and here I am in 2019 still living abroad, just in a different country now. While that first year in China was one of the hardest of my life (the culture shock I experienced was no joke), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. This life has afforded me so many opportunities to travel to places I wouldn’t have even imagined as a child, allowed me to meet some of the most interesting and influential people who’ve become my tribe, and stretched me beyond my comfort zone in more ways than I can count.

I tell anyone who will listen that traveling is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. By travel, I don’t mean take a cruise or go to an all-inclusive resort in Mexico. I mean really travel. Experience how other people live, talk to locals, get lost, feel the heartbeat of a city, try new foods you’ve never seen before, and travel alone at least once in your life. I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to 5 continents, live on 4, and experience 39 countries and counting. Take it from me, you owe it to yourself. I’ll say it until the day I die, life isn’t meant to be lived in one place.

 

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This is ‘2010 Jen’ showing off my fancy new bike in front of my little school in the zoo in Shanghai…man, those were some good times. But those bootleg jeans…yeah, no! 😛

What the SOL Challenge is to Me

When I started the Slice of Life Challenge back in 2011, I had no idea the impact it would have on my life or that I’d still be participating 9 years later. However, the SOL Challenge has become a part of my identity. I’m someone who slices now. I tell anyone who will listen that they have to try it. I look forward to the challenge each year, and I mourn it when it’s over.

This challenge is a gift I give to myself each and every year. The practice of slowing down, being more mindful of my daily life, noticing the little details, and carving out time to write gives me a renewed perspective and an appreciation of life. I’m not a consistent writer and the act of journaling each day is daunting, but by slicing each March, I have a record of one month of my life year on year. Because I write honestly about what’s going on in my life, there are good slices and bad. Looking back on my past slices gives me a chance to reflect on where I’ve been and how far I’ve come. It also helps me remember little details of my life abroad that I might have otherwise forgotten.

Since joining the challenge, I have noticed that I’ve pushed myself out of my comfort zone as a writer. I’m comfortable with narrative, and I tend to fall back on the genre in most of my writing, but the practice of writing each day gives me the freedom and opportunity to try out other genres that might seem scary at first. Poetry is a genre that I previously avoided, thinking there’s no way I can do it, but reading other slicers’ poems and dipping my toe into this unfamiliar genre has shown me that I can write poetry and some slices are better written as a poem.

Being a part of this writing community has changed me for the better. Each March, as I dust off the old blog, it feels like coming home. The friends I have made on the challenge over the years spur me on as a writer. We read and comment on one another’s slices, getting insight into one another’s lives. Sometimes I feel that they know me more than some people in real life know me. They see the rawness and vulnerability to get to know the real me. They encourage me as a writer, offer words of advice and sympathy, and celebrate the good stuff.

When you join the SOL Challenge, you agree to read and comment on at least 3 other slices each day, but I always do way more than that. Reading other slices gives me ideas for my own writing, teaches me new things, and gives me a sense of connectedness. I’ve learned that comments fuel me as a writer, which is part of the reason I love the challenge. I know that every time I post my slice, there will be an audience reading what I’ve offered up. Getting feedback on my writing is exciting and helps me grow as a writer.

Something I’ve learned by taking part in this challenge is that you make time for what’s important. All too often I put things off because I’m too busy. I neglect the dishes in the sink or the stuff piling up on my desk that is calling out to be put away. I skip the gym or take a long time to respond to emails. But during the challenge, I find time to write every day, as well as read and comment on other slices. Does it take a lot of time? Yes. Does my to do list get longer? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.

I hope that you will join me on this SOL Challenge. It’s definitely worth it!

My Last Ten Books

I’m a reader. Always have been, always will be. But just like anything, there are heavy seasons and there are light. I’m in a heavy season at the moment, devouring books quickly, picking up a new one as soon as (or before!) I finish the old one. Since January 1st, I’ve read 10 books.

Since this week is Literacy Week (My favorite week of the school year! More on that next week.), I figured I’d write about reading. I learned a unique strategy for a reader’s notebook entry from a colleague a while ago. It’s called “The Last Ten Books I’ve Read and What They Say About Me as a Reader.” Here we go.

This book was given to me by Michelle. Michelle and I always recommend books to one another, and any time I go home to visit, she always has a book or two to pass on to me. I really enjoyed this one due to the author’s voice; I loved the honest and quirky comments from Eleanor. Since realistic fiction is one of my go-to genres, this one fit in my wheelhouse. This book will be made into a movie soon, so I had to read it, as the book has to be read before watching the film. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes an unconventional love story.

Working in an international school has opened my eyes to many cultures and broadened my views of how children from different cultures interact with one another. I ordered this book from Amazon since I thought students at my school would connect to it, as it explored an Indian child’s start at a school in America. I enjoy reading Young Adult literature so that I can keep current with what students are into, plus it’s easier to recommend books to students if I’ve read them. This book was a quick read; I liked the short chapters that alternated between the two boys’ perspectives. I would recommend this for students in fourth to sixth grade and upper primary teachers.

Okay, can I just start by saying…I LOVE THIS BOOK! This one is another recommendation from a friend. Over the Christmas holiday, Shags texted me to tell me she was in the middle of a book that she just knew I would love. And boy, was she right! I picked up a copy at Half Price Books, but since I was reading another book, I had to wait a bit to start it. I began this book on the plane ride to Bangkok, where I attended a job fair for 4 days. Despite my busy schedule, I found time for reading. I couldn’t put it down, and finished it by the end of the trip. I love a good coming of age story, and if you do too, you will love this book. I also enjoyed the way the story was told through a mix of narrative and emails.

Three Young Adult books in a row…I’m sensing a pattern. But I just can’t resist! And this one has won so many awards that I had to give it a go. I enjoyed the unique storytelling style, told through poetry. The intense topics addressed in the book are made more intense by the word choice, line breaks, and lack of text. As I read this book, I made many connections to The Hate U Give, a book I read a couple of months prior. If you liked THUG, you’ll enjoy this one.

This is one I listened to rather than read, and I’m so glad I did! Hearing the author read her own memoir is so much better than reading it on my own. You get so much more from the tone of voice, inflection, and pacing than simply reading the words. On Audible this book is 19 hours, so it took me a few weeks of listening as I got ready for school in the morning, on my morning commute, and before I fell asleep. Memoir is another favorite genre. I think memoir speaks to my soul since I value storytelling so much. I enjoy hearing a person’s story, seeing how experiences in their life have shaped who they are. And Michelle Obama is someone who has done so much for women and girls in America. I would highly recommend this book, especially the audiobook.

This one ticks a few boxes. Realistic fiction (well…sorta realistic)/mystery, it’s soon to be a movie, and it’s told in a unique way, through a mix of emails, texts, letters, documents, and narrative. Once I picked this one up, I couldn’t put it down. I just had to know what happened to Bernadette! This one is now our Book Club book, thanks to my recommendation. I hope my friends like it as much as I did.

Something I struggle with is getting everything done on my to-do list. Spoiler alert- I never do! When I start working on a project, I can fly through it if I’m super into it, but if it’s something I’m not interested in, I can procrastinate and dread even starting it. I picked up this book to hopefully get some helpful tips for overcoming this issue. While some of the tips were things I already knew (and don’t do), many of them were new ideas to me and ones that I hope to put into practice soon. If you struggle with procrastination, I’d recommend reading this book.

I know what you’re thinking already. She totally jumped on the Marie Kondo bandwagon. Yeah, I admit it; I did. Michelle and Linner both recommended this book to me ages ago, so I downloaded it on Audible. I started it, but could never get into it. To be honest, I think it has more to do with the narrator than the content; she nearly put me to sleep anytime I listened. After a few failed attempts, I abandoned it. But after watching the Netflix series, Tidying Up with Marie Kondo, I tried out some of her lessons in my own house. I found that it made a big difference, so I gave the book another try. While I appreciate her methods and many of her tips, some of it is hokey to me. I don’t think I learned much more listening to the book than I did watching the show so I wouldn’t really recommend this book; just watch the series instead!

Yep, another Young Adult/Teen book. But in all fairness, I didn’t know it when I bought the book. I actually bought this one based on the cover. Once I started reading it, I fell in love with Finch and Violet, with their imperfect and complicated lives. It deals with heavy issues, such as suicide, so if you are looking for a light read, this isn’t it. But I really loved it, despite the heaviness.

After Milk and Honey, I was convinced that all Rupi Kaur’s other books would be a letdown. There’s no way she can write another book of poems as beautiful, I thought. Well, she proved me wrong! The Sun and her Flowers spoke to my soul in ways I didn’t know was possible. It’s definitely a book I’ll reread again and again. The passion, vulnerability, and honesty in her poems hits you in the face. If all poetry was like this, I’d read a lot more of it. I highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates good poetry that deals with real issues.

In addition to the books I’ve completed this year, I’m also in the middle of a few others- The Power of Inquiry by Kath Murdoch, Culture Map by Erin Meyer, and How to be a Travel Writer by Lonely Planet.

If you have any must-reads, please leave them in the comments.