Sometimes you try something and it just doesn’t work out. Sometimes you look at your creations so much that you can’t see them the way others would see them. I can be really hard on myself for these kinds of things, but I am trying to learn from my mistakes and “get back on the horse” when they happen so I don’t lose confidence.
This past couple of weeks my colleague and I have been giving tours of the library and informational presentations to grade 7 students. We still have more to go- there are 7 tours in total. My manager asked if I could give the students a mini-version of my “There’s a Graphic Novel For Everyone- Yes, Even You!” presentation since the teachers had been asking about it, to which I of course said YES!!!
So each day, my colleague starts out the tour, bringing the group around both floors of the library, doing a scavenger hunt, exploring some online resources, and then she hands them over to me for the final half of their visit.
I altered my original presentation for the grade 7 students, shortening it and changing some of the language and content to be a bit more suitable for their age. I was excited to present it, but as I was going through it with the students on the first tour and they were reading out the character cards i’d designed, I really began to realize how advanced some of the vocabulary I had used was. I also noticed that some of the titles featured, while perhaps acceptable for their age group, were not really as thrilling to the grade 7 kids as they were to me. Oof, gr. 7 is aTough crowd, I couldn’t help thinking for a moment as many of them sat staring at me with glazed faces, picking at their shoes.
On the second day, after our second tour, my colleague asked if she could talk to me- “I don’t want you to be sad…” she said kindly, “…but the teacher who organized the tours called me, and she said the presentation is too advanced for the grade 7 kids.”
Although I had also been thinking that the altered presentation might still be too in-depth, to hear it coming from the teachers gave me a sinking feeling of anxiety and reminded me suddenly of my hell practicum .
However, as soon as I heard the feedback the teachers had given, it became very clear to me what the problem was with my presentation- I was trying to make the kids fit into my presentation and not the other way around. I put a lot of time and effort into the first version of the presentation, including original characters and artwork, and because of my attachment to those pieces I didn’t truly consider them through the eyes of a grade 7 kid like I should have.
Sure, lots of people in other situations enjoyed the creativity of my original presentation, but it was made for an audience of adult library conference goers! Yes, there were a few kids who answered my questions eagerly and were genuinely interested in what I had to say, but those were the kids like me who already loved books in grade 7- if the point of my presentation is that comics are for everyone, I needed to convince the OTHER kids. Yes, I had already edited my presentation a bit for the classroom tours, but it was clear I had to start fresh.
I assured my colleague that I could whip up something different that would be much better suited for the grade 7’s. “Are you sure? The next tour is Monday afternoon…” (this being Friday merely half an hour before our work day was ending). Yes, I knew what I needed to do.
So, I put together a completely different presentation- shorter, simpler, with a bright new PowerPoint style and carefully selected title recommendations. I planned a group activity with the help of my colleague that would get the kids’ energy out a bit before they sat down again for my presentation.
I’ve gone through this new presentation and activity with 4 tour groups so far, and I’m very glad to say it is working out much better. The teachers complimented some of the changes we made to tidy up the flow of the tour, as well as the changes to my presentation about graphic novels. Overall the groups have been more engaged. More kids have started coming up to me after presentations to ask about certain books that were featured.
I’m glad the teachers reached out with their concerns instead of letting me stumble through all of the tours- it’s not often I work with kids in that age group, and the teachers know their students’ interests and capabilities best. I’m also glad that they gave me a chance to alter the presentation and give it another try. Once again my respect for teachers grows, because although I enjoy doing the tours, being in charge of a large group of tweens for only one hour is extremely draining on me- and teachers have them all day for the whole school year!
This is the most personal blog post I’ve ever written. I’ve recently seen some comments from strangers and well-meaning friends who criticize and doubt the necessity of some medications, especially mood-altering prescriptions. I understand where they are coming from- big pharma is scary, and it seems like some doctors’ answer to everything is to indiscriminately feed us more and more pills. Yet, as someone who comes from a family with many mental health struggles, and who has battled some of my own, I want to share my own story.
I’ve had anxiety since I was a teenager, but it got steadily worse in my early 20s. Despite living a privileged life surrounded with wonderful and supportive friends and family (including pets!), I had these “monsters” holding me down.
This is a poem I wrote during that time:
Traveling became more anxious than fun. I still didn’t have my licence because I didn’t have the confidence for driving. I was socially awkward and quiet, feeling overwhelmed with the world before I even got out of bed in the morning. I worried endlessly and catastrophized everything, anticipating the worst possible scenarios for just about any situation.
In my practicums while completing my Bachelor of Education, my anxiety reached new and debilitating heights. The pressures of being a teacher- the professional expectations, the perpetual donning of the “Teacher Hat”, and the reality of being at the front of the classroom, began weighing on me heavily.
I spoke with a counselor in university, as well as my doctor, and decided I wanted to first try to deal with it on my own- I learned a lot of stress-relief methods and breathing exercises, and they were helpful at the time to some degree. Dustin, my then-boyfriend-now-husband, was also a voice of reason who helped to talk me down whenever I went into full-blown panic mode.
However, my anxiety became extreme 2014-2015 during a particularly tumultuous time in my life, which included a 9 week teaching practicum that I now refer to as my “hell practicum”. I had struggled with previous practicums teaching grades k-3, so I decided to focus on my strength (language arts) and try teaching LA 7-9 in a middle school setting, hoping that it would be easier on me for the final stretch. This decision was a terrible mistake.
For the most part, it wasn’t the students that got to me- it was my mentor teacher. She was a no-nonsense authoritarian type who sensed my weakness and couldn’t understand where I was coming from. She didn’t know that I was at my lowest point mentally, and because of her open criticisms of other students and teachers, I didn’t feel like I could open up to her about it. By this point in my life I had already internally decided that I wanted to leave teaching and pursue Librarianship, but I still had to make it through the final practicum to get my bachelor degree.
My mentor teacher seemed to take a boot-camp approach to shaping me up to her liking, and I was simply unable to handle it at the time. Her tough-love method pushed me farther into my shell. She gave me armfuls of marking to do and little guidance for teaching her classes or using her rubrics. My inefficiency in her classroom was amplified by the fact that, since she taught only one subject, she had a rotating roster of students visiting throughout the day, and I had over 150 names and faces to memorize if I wanted to be able to communicate effectively with her kids. The students also sensed my submissiveness, treating me like a substitute teacher whom they thought they could fool, swapping desk assignments, protesting “our teacher lets us do this!” and so on. It was a recipe for disaster.
I was having silent panic attacks where I led the class on uninspiring lessons that I could barely remember teaching afterward. My appetite disappeared- I had trouble swallowing food and would often begin to choke. I was administered a barium swallow test, but the doctors couldn’t find anything wrong and attributed it to stress. I lost over 35 pounds (NOT in a healthy way- to this day I have a rare Eustachian tube disorder that I developed from losing so much weight so fast), and I had so much tension in my body that by week 3 I had to wear a back brace to the classroom to make it through the day. I tried to put on my best “fake it till you make it” facade, but I was not fooling the middle schoolers, or my mentor teacher, one bit.
My mentor began getting more agitated with my insecurities and vulnerability in her classroom. Things were not working out. She began gathering evidence of my shortcomings by secretly filming me as I taught, and spying on me through the classroom window when I thought she was leaving the room for a bit. Afterward she would confront me and say things like “I was watching through the window. What did you do wrong?” and I usually knew exactly where my shortcomings were: “when I was talking to X I had my back to the rest of the class, so they started acting out” or “Y wasn’t paying attention and when he didn’t listen to me I didn’t discipline him.” Exasperated, she would say “So if you know that you are doing it wrong, then why do you do it!?” My mental health was so frail that I couldn’t stand up for myself with these middle-schoolers, or their teacher.
I remember one evening when I fought back tears the entire bus-ride home, and when I got to my apartment I collapsed on the floor, bawling, my poor dog curling herself around me in concerned confusion.
Dustin was working night shift during this time and was gone before I got home, so I barely saw him back then. I would cry as I worked on lesson plans and marking into the wee hours of the night, and drink copious amounts of wine to help me calm down and finally fall into a fitful sleep. I’d be gripped with terror when my alarm woke me, dreading going to the school to teach. My bus ride was slow torture as it carried me closer and closer to the school. I was on the brink of a total breakdown.
Finally, my mentor teacher couldn’t tolerate me anymore, and filed a Notification of Concern to the University. Crushed and ashamed, I remembered the pre-practicum pep talk we had gotten from our academic advisors months ago, where they briefly discussed Notifications of Concern with the caveat “but don’t worry, nobody ever gets those!” I guess I was the exception.
Even though I thought I didn’t have it in me, I put on an even stronger fake-it-till-you make it face, trying even harder to buckle down and push through the final two weeks of my hellish practicum. It didn’t work.
My teacher backed out and said she didn’t want to complete the practicum, as was her right to do. I called Dustin, sobbing, and said “it’s over.”
I don’t blame my mentor, or wish her any ill will. She was just doing what she thought to be best for her students at the time. She has a teaching style that is the exact opposite of my own, and we didn’t mesh well together. Combined with my mental health issues, it just wasn’t working. And that’s ok. I wish her all the best, and I’m sorry that I put her through that stressful time, too.
Even though I was done, and I was exhausted and telling everyone DAMN THE WHOLE DEGREE, I’M FINISHED, my academic advisors wouldn’t let me quit. They defended me to the university, fighting for me, presenting my case as a hard working student who had a practicum assignment that just didn’t work out. Since my previous practicum mentors had given me good reports, and academically I was ready to graduate with distinction, I was allowed a replacement practicum. I owe my advisors so much.
Somehow, with the support of many people, I found myself in a new placement with a wonderful and supportive grade 1 mentor teacher. She was so kind, so understanding, and so helpful. She really saw that I had experienced something personally traumatic, and wanted me to succeed. She did things like recommending certain items at the library that might be helpful, and loaning me a class mic so that I wasn’t straining my voice so hard when trying to get the attention of the kids each day. This teacher was a lifesaver for me.
It was still hard for me because I had zero confidence after the hell practicum, but I had moments where I really enjoyed teaching those kids with my new mentor.
Although I didn’t think I could possibly get through a 7 week replacement practicum in such a devastated state, I did finish and graduated with my B.Ed. I remember coming in one day during the last couple weeks of my replacement practicum. I had told my mentor teacher that I had to leave a little bit early that day for graduation ceremonies. I started crying when I walked into the classroom. She had decorated the room for me. She told the kids I was graduating and they brought me flowers and little gifts. They said “Miss, show us your hat!”
And so, finally I had graduated. I felt great relief, but my heightened anxiety remained. I opened up to my doctor about the anxiety I had experienced, and she prescribed antidepressants. I was surprised and confused, because I didn’t think I was depressed. She explained that anxiety and depression were on a sort of spectrum, and that some of the symptoms I had been describing were indicative of depression.
I felt a bit wary of pills, but she thought that the right medication might really help with both my anxiety and depression related symptoms. So, I decided to give it a go.
It took some time adjusting and trying new dosage amounts, but once I figured out what worked for me, it was a truly life-changing shift. I didn’t realize that I was being held down so much until I was lifted up. I hadn’t realized that I could exist in this state: energized and happy throughout the day on a regular basis. Waking up optimistic instead of melancholic. I started feeling the way I used to feel before I knew crushing anxiety.
I can recall a flashbulb memory from when I was a teen. I can’t remember the context, but I wasn’t being myself, and my father asked me “what happened to my happy-go-lucky Shauna?”.
I don’t know what happened to her or where she went for so long, but I finally found her again.
I wish I had tried medication long before my practicums. I truly believe that I would have had entirely different practicum experiences. I never would have believed it, but in the 3 years since I graduated, I’ve accomplished so much and journeyed willingly outside of my comfort zone. I’ve traveled by myself to Toronto and enjoyed every minute of it. My hubby and I went to Japan and I wasn’t anxiously anticipating problems to happen, I was just freely enjoying myself. I’ve taken on new projects at work and am even speaking at conferences now! I never thought I would be excited to present to a room of strangers, but here I am. I’m starting my MLIS program in the fall and I am going to be a librarian.
Although I didn’t end up going back into the classroom, my experiences finishing the B.Ed gave me tons of skills that I will carry with me into the future. And, my respect for teachers is higher than it’s ever been, because I KNOW how much you do, how much of yourself you put into your work, and how draining and exhausting it can be sometimes. To anyone reading this who dedicates themselves to an intensely emotionally and physically draining job like teaching, if you are struggling you aren’t alone. You do so much. Take care of yourself.
Lastly, I just want to say this: medication is not for everyone. Anyone who has questions about medication should talk to their doctor. Every medication and dosage affects every person a little bit differently. I was lucky that I found something that worked for me. For some people, the medication I am on makes things worse. Some people get by without medication. Yet, I will never feel ashamed to say that I take medication for my mental health, because I am living a much fuller life with this stuff.
On Friday my manager and I attended a pre-conference where we learned about being savvy when talking to the media. I volunteered to be a mock interviewee (i’m trying to take opportunities to work on my public speaking, because it’s still a bit out of my comfort zone…).
We attended the First Timer’s Reception in the evening where they had tons of free books (unedited proofs and advanced readers copies) for us to take!
Yesterday I presented my session, There’s a Graphic Novel for Everyone (Yes, Even You!). Although my nerves did suddenly appear and I felt my face reddening, I did enjoy sharing all I’d learned about graphic novels the past few months. I saw some familiar faces in the crowd, even a few smiling strangers, and a bunch of people have come to me afterward to give positive feedback and ask me about accessing my resources lists and presentation materials, which fills me with joy!
^Playing the ukelele during group-work to avoid awkward silence!
I had about 45 people register, which is wonderful! Like I’ve said before, even if one person finds some information in my presentation useful or interesting, then I am a happy woman. I hope lots of people were inspired to take a closer look at how awesome graphic novels are! When my session was over, I was suddenly hit with a wave of exhaustion, but the good kind.
Some other highlights of the conference:
Keynote speaker Scott Bonner, Director of Ferguson Municipal Public Library, on his experiences serving the community during turmoil in Ferguson, Missouri.
Adventures in Animation, where many practical ideas were shared about lively, community-focused programming
^these feminist posters are so awesome!
Stand Up! Access to Justice, where I learned about recent and upcoming resources being created by the Centre for Public Legal Education in Alberta (CPLEA)
an author talk by Trevor Herriot, where he shared his passions about birds, grassland environments, Indigenous traditions and meeting places, and conservation
Keynote speaker Sheila Watt-Cloutier sharing her deep knowledge on the current condition of the Arctic and Inuit adaptation to a warming climate
Learning, Art and the Third Age, where we looked at the importance of art programming and created a quick, cool, group art project
^colourful community art that took only minutes to create
Up With Voices: Zines, where we learned about zine collections and creation, zine workshop programming, and an exciting Indigenous zine project currently in the works
These are just a few highlights, but overall this conference has been amazing and I wish I could have attended every session!
Jasper Municipal Library
Of course we had to visit Jasper Municipal Library at some point! Thursday morning we got directions from a lovely woman at the Jasper info center. The library is a mix of modern and cosy. I am in love with the cute manga-style posters welcoming you in. A library staff told me they were created by a local teen for a program!
We also stumbled upon this adorable Little Free Library in town.
Regarding Impulse Purchases
We had some time to explore the Jasper shopping scene a little bit.
I promised myself I wouldn’t spend any money on cheesy souvenirs, but we were exploring on Thursday morning and I fell in love with these finger puppets. A grown woman can spend her money how she likes, right?
At the Fairmont Fitzhugh’s To Go, I tried my first ever Brookie (Brownie/Cookie) and Cruffin (Croissant/Muffin).
The Brookie was the winner.
On Nearly Burning Down Our Hotel Room
On thursday morning, we knew we would have to talk to the hotel staff because our room was ridiculously hot. We had kept the air conditioning on all night but with no success. We talked with the hotel desk staff who said that the air conditioning wasn’t set up properly from the winter and that we shouldn’t use it. We advised them that it was emitting cold air so they basically said “oh, OK then, guess it’s alright”.
When we returned that evening the room was like the deepest steaming crevice of hell. Something was obviously messed up. We called the desk. A guy came up and urgently advised us that there was no exhaust hose connected to the air conditioning, so although it was providing cool air from the front, all of the hot air was escaping out the back directly into the curtains behind. “This is bad” he said. “This could have caused some damage.” My manager and I imagined having to call our library admin staff to advise them we’d burned down our hotel (this became a running joke for the rest of the shenanigans we got into on the trip).
Ah well, what happens in Jasper stays in Jasper.
It seems like Elijah Wood didn’t take up my offer in a previous post to crash the conference, unfortunately. IT’S COOL I’M STILL FANGIRLING FOR YOU ELIJAH 😀
My friends have been tagging me in posts like these ^ with lots of exclamation marks to let me know you are coming to the Calgary Expo next weekend; this is because I have awesome friends who know that I enjoy travelling to the nerd expos, that I am a huge fan of yours, and that LOTR was my first ever fandom. Unfortunately I won’t be able to realize my dream of meeting you this time, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
Now, about The Lord of the Rings. My Dad got me into the books when I was 10 years old. He wanted to make sure I read them before the movies came out, and for that I am eternally grateful. The books were (and are) life-changingly excellent, and catapulted me into a lifelong love of reading. The movies took my interest to the next level- Dad and I bonded over the cinematic masterpiece of the trilogy as each movie came out. I got “the shakes” after watching The Fellowship of the Ring in the theatre because it affected me so much (ok, maybe that was also partially due to sitting tensely and staring at an illuminated screen for 3 hours straight).
^ Freaking iconic!
LOTR became my obsession, I was seeking it, seeking it, all my thought was bent on it. I had a literal shrine in my bedroom with everything from a paper-mache Sting dagger to a Gandalf the White cardboard standee that my shy mother somehow haggled off of a movie store employee because she knew it would bring me joy. I took a replica One Ring off of a bookmark and attached it to a necklace that I wore to school regularly- I remember being called “Ring Girl” because of it. I got a set of plastic Fellowship figurines for Christmas one year and took them into the snowy woods with my camera, attempting to recreate scenes from the movies. (The resulting photos were about as impressive as you’d expect).
Elijah, you were also my first ever crush. Because I’m a freaking weirdo, I realized you were my first crush in The Fellowship of The Ring when Frodo was stabbed with the Morgul blade by the Nazgul and his eyes became all pale and creepy.
^ boyfriend material
I had an account on one of your fansites where I posted in forums for the first time in my young life, squeeing enviously over posts where other girls recounted times they met you in person at various events. I frequented lordoftherings.net and refreshed the page every 10 seconds so I could hear every version of the randomized intro “Hi, this is [actor name] and welcome to lordoftherings.net”, but I especially got excited to hear your voice.
While my tween obsession of near-stalker levels has faded, I am definitely your fan forever.
I tried drawing you as Frodo a few weeks ago. I wish I could say that I cut the left side of the picture like that for artistic or compositional reasons, but really it was because I made your right eye freakishly large. Sorry.
I’m a married woman now, but once a fangirl always a fangirl. I’m an eternal Ringer- as both a Lord of the Rings fan as well as a member of a handbell choir- how about that. Speaking of handbell choir, I was in the novice group previously but I lost my mind and managed to shoehorn my way into the advanced group when I found out they are learning none other than THEMES FROM THE FREAKING LORD OF THE RINGS!
Last year I had the privilege of meeting and getting a picture with Mr. John Rhys-Davies at the Edmonton Comic & Entertainment Expo. He complimented me on my cosplay. I told him “you’re my favorite dwarf forever” and he said “aw, I love you”. My little hobbit heart grew three sizes that day.
I also managed to get a pic with Sauron himself. He’s actually a really nice guy.
The year before that I met Billy Boyd and was entranced by his Beecake concert. Bought all the CDs!
^ (Sorry Billy, the real picture is on an external harddrive tucked away somewhere and I am too lazy to find it at the moment, but here is a blurry picture of the picture of me and Billy Boyd, screen-grabbed from a picture of me holding the picture of me and Billy Boyd!)
I’d very much love the opportunity to meet you too, Elijah. I was more than ready to drive or fly to Calgary to see you.
But Elijah, would you believe that the very weekend you are visiting is the same weekend I am going to my first ever Library Conference, and as a speaker? I have worked at a library for 7 years and in September I am beginning my Master program with the goal of becoming a librarian. At the Alberta Library Conference in Jasper, Friday afternoon, I am doing a presentation session on the versatility of the graphic novel format. I’m super passionate about it and excited for the opportunity (been prepping it and working on my public speaking skills for several months!), but I can’t say i’m not bummed out that I am missing the opportunity to see you at the expo in Calgary.
So, since I can’t say it there, let me say it here- I think you’re Terrific with a capital T, you gave us the perfect Frodo and made my tween heart flutter- thank you for coming to Alberta- I hope you have fun in Calgary, and I’m sorry I’ll miss you when you’re here!
P.S. if you have time, feel free to swing by Jasper and crash the Alberta Library Convention! You know you want another adventure in the mountains! XD
Last year I submitted a proposal for a session to the Alberta Library Conference organizers. I had a flash of inspiration and submitted it on a bit of a whim, not really thinking it would be accepted.
I got a pleasant surprise- my conference session proposal was accepted! So I will be traveling to Jasper at the end of this month with my lovely manager to attend my first library conference (and to present there!)
I’ve been around Alberta a bit, and I’ve been to gorgeous Jasper and Banff a couple of times on road trips, but I, as well as my manager, naively assumed that we could fly to Jasper for this trip instead. (Wrong-o!). So, we’re going to do the whole trip in our library vehicle. This will be the first time I am traveling so far for work. It’s cool!
My conference session is called There’s a Graphic Novel For Everyone (Yes, Even You!). It covers topics such as
What is meant by “graphic novel” and how that name relates to additional terms like comic, web-comic, manga, etc.
The importance of realizing that graphic novels are a format, not a genre, and can be on any topic or theme!
Graphic novel readers advisory for specific topics and genres, like non-fiction, biography, reluctant readers, award winners, focus on diversity, LGBTQ+, Indigenous and more
In-depth exploration of some Graphic Novel excerpts
Reflections for library staff and teachers
Resource links and title lists
My session is 1 hour long so I am going to have to keep an eye on time, as I have tons to share on this topic.
I am extremely excited for this conference, even though public speaking is not in my comfort zone. I have been preparing for this conference for several months and this is the first time in my life that I am actually EXCITED to stand in front of a group of strangers and talk. Passion is am excellent motivator!
Here is a sneak peek of the mascot (?) I made for the session. This picture is from the session called “Get To Know Graphic Novels!”