Tag Archives: school

Closure & Contemplation

“The only way to find out if you’re in the right place
is to stand in the place.”
- Amy Poehler

During a brief respite from determining how I can force Amy P. to adopt me, I took a few minutes to watch this Smart Girls video of her speaking on courage. The above quote kept echoing in my head after I heard it for a few reasons.

Most obviously, I thought about our time in Virginia. Clayton and I had been so excited and optimistic to leave Florida. We’d talked about that leap for years, imagined it over and over, and finally had an opportunity. We were so ready. Never in a million years did we think that journey would circle right back to Florida two years later, at our own choosing.

nat shenandoahIn some ways, it felt like we’d failed. Scratch that, it felt like I’d failed. I was the one who couldn’t hack it less than a year in, I was the one looking for PA jobs in Florida (no one would even see me for an interview) after building up this dream of what life would look like anywhere but here. But Ames reminded me that we wouldn’t have known if that move was for us unless we actually packed up and moved. Turns out, Newport News did not hold the Noas’ glamorous, reinvented future. It did, however, hold a lot of military bases, terrible traffic and an insane job in a trauma hospital. (But weekend D.C. trips were pretty fantastic.)

nat clayton dc

So we moved on. I think about those years quite a bit, for better or worse. Maybe moving on didn’t necessarily have to mean moving back, but Clayton and I were both so desperate for relationships. Tampa had a whole vending machine of prepackaged, ready to consume friendships waiting for us. It would have been hard to take another risk in a new city at that point. Plus, I was pregnant and wanted my mommy.

When I think about where we’ll be five or ten years from now, though, I don’t know that Florida is sustainable. Crazily enough, I’m the one who will probably initiate another foray outside the Sunshine State. Clayton has the personality that accepts things as they are; I am the wanderer and questioner. He can’t sit still literally, but I can’t stay still figuratively. After only a few years being back, I cherish the family and friends that fill my life but still wonder what might be waiting. And, quite simply, we won’t know if there is another place for us until we’re standing in that place

Apart from an actual get-up-and-go battle cry, A.Poehls reiterated some thoughts I’ve been wrestling with about my work. Writing as a career in and of itself still thrills me. Factor in doing it from home, on my own schedule, and in between caring for kiddo(s), and it’s oh so tempting to ride this wave as far as it takes me without changing course.


But then some days, like today, I will catch a glimpse of what writing about things and people and places that truly inspire me would feel like. And I know with certainty I could do that. That’s about where the debilitating blackness of the Unknown begins to stretch out ahead. I have no idea what “writing about what I want” looks like. A book, a column, a blog that is actually maintained, a journal that never sees the light of day. Or a more creative day job that nurtures me professionally but prevents me from nurturing my family in the way I am used to.

So far, I have not felt a strong enough pull to make any effort to change my work load. I take what I am given by my current clients, weathering the hectic months along with the silent ones. Thankfully, my income has remained pretty steady and everything balances out by the end of the year. Except for taxes. God forsaken taxes.

Now that baby number that’s-it is coming along, I’ve been getting a different thrill thinking about what comes next. I am sure this was a crux, but it seemed a little pointless to dive into a new lifestyle, hobby or work situation knowing a baby was about to be on board. Could I have opened a new business or enrolled in a doctorate program in my second trimester? Sure. Would it have led to a mental breakdown ending in a murder-suicide primed for a Lifetime movie? Probably. All signs now point to the imminent end of childbearing, and I’ll be “free” to and (eek!) responsible for creating what life will look like raising babies instead of making ‘em.

It’s an exciting proposition to feel like anything is possible. I honestly feel that way, as cheesy and PSA-sounding as it is. I’m looking forward to training for all sorts of running PRs in the next decade, planning trips that require air travel and being able to take the necessary sedatives to follow through with them, visiting far away friends more regularly, and who knows what else. I was semi serious about the doctorate program. Always the scholar.

oh the places

My future second mommy Mama Amy offered an added reassurance that yes, all those plans may crash and burn—okay, not cool to use that analogy related to air travel; double my dose, please—but taking steps to stand in those places, no matter what the result, is courageous. Even more, it’s living.

Cheers to one more 8×11 piece of paper that cost more than our two cars!

You’ll remember fondly, I’m sure, that I was teetering oh so close to the edge of wasting an ungodly amount of money on a correspondence course that was soon to expire.

That bad boy expires Sunday, friends. Which, in Natalie Time, meant I had until shortly after 11 p.m. on Sunday to finish reading the last novel, write the essay, pad the word count by including the author’s full name and novel title seven more times, put my full confidence in our internet connection and other three thousand technological conveniences to work properly, and get that masterpiece submitted.

But I’m a go-getter. A real hustler, if you will. I thought, “It’s hogwash to need 32 weeks to finish a class that others finish in one semester. Let’s get this knocked out in 31 and 3/4 weeks.” Plus, there are way too many Octoberfests sitting in my fridge this weekend to worry about that tiny little detail of spending $2.2 million on an unfinished class.

So I finished it today. Like, five minutes ago. Meaning the tears in my eyes from realizing a seriously expensive and seemingly unimportant goal are still fresh and making it rather dangerous to be this close to so many electronics. But, personal safety be damned,

I [will, at some point, when I submit the necessary paperwork and spend hours on the phone with the four colleges supplying me with grades] HAVE AN ENGLISH DEGREE!

A part of me feels like I should craft a long list of my (and the federal government’s) dollars spent or pairs of Rainbows worn thin or pots of coffee made after 10 p.m. or pity parties thrown after getting an A- (nine, to be exact) or husbands who finally stopped pestering me to wash a dish or make a meal that made this effort possible.

Instead, I’m going to start working on an excuse that allows me to pop open one of those frosty brews at 11:52 a.m. Anything remotely medical should cover it. And then I’m going to update my résumé. Because I might not be a student any more, but nerd is forever.


tori nat fountain

(First collegiate graduation, May 2007)

Reason for extension request: prolonged spooning sessions with oversized canine.

It wouldn’t surprise most of you to know that on my list of “Pivotal Life Decisions that Turned Out Completely Differently than I Expected,” moving to Virginia ranks pretty high on that list. It doesn’t take top billing because that is forever reserved for the Pixie Cut Incident of 1992. I was 8 years old. My mom took me to the mall after one of my baseball games, and I was still wearing the flat-billed, oversized, painfully attractive baseball hat (think one of Ashton Kutcher’s trucker hats in bright orange). A man referred to me as “little boy.”

The Inspiration (Source):dorothy hammill

I haven’t paid a professional to point this out for me, but I’d bet all that self deprecation stems from this one moment.

Lately, I’ve added another item to the list: getting that prized English degree. Most people assume I was an English major, which would be correct for my freshman through junior years in college. But I choked. I got spooked halfway through my junior year and mentally screamed, “But I don’t want to be a teacher!” That was the only prospect anyone ever credited to an English degree. Well, that and law school. I’m sorry but Legally Brunette is not nearly as catchy, nor do I prefer to spend all my litigating money on women’s skirt suits. Gag. So I got a degree in Exercise Science because I was good at not being fat.

After a few years out of college, I decided to go back. I figured I’d gotten so close to that little piece of paper that it wouldn’t be difficult to just check that puppy off the list with a handful of courses. I enrolled while in Tampa and aced my first semester. Then? Surprise! Clayton got a job in Virginia! 

Everything related to school kind of went dark and took a major backseat to the move. Like, in our second car that was being pulled on the trailer by the U-haul that was driving behind our first car. That kind of backseat. It became way more complicated to stay at the same university and finish my English degree from 800 miles away. In the past two years, I’ve taken classes from three different colleges, all (hopefully) going towards this degree. Do you know what backhanded, pretentious title they give this kind of higher learning? Transient. Kind of sounds…unwashed, doesn’t it? Which is exactly why my not showering for three days at a time is called a self-fulfilling prophecy. Thank you, Education.

So here I am, currently taking the last required class to get this bad boy finished. And you might think that I’d have reserves and reserves of motivation when I arrived at this point, considering what a headache it took to get here. But, oh, how wrong you’d be. The worst possible match for me was taking a correspondence course. Because if you don’t finish in the first 16 weeks, THEY AUTOMATICALLY GIVE YOU 16 MORE WEEKS. No questions asked. All nonchalant and forgiving. So, naturally, I planned ahead for a 32-week course. And then my master procrastination skillz kicked in, and I finished 3 of the 9 assignments in about 20 weeks.

I mean, 20 weeks isn’t that long when you think about it. If this were a pregnancy we were talking about (though it is NOT), that nugget would only be the size of, like, a Craisin and I’d still be sneaking lattes when my husband wasn’t looking. Twenty weeks was barely enough time for me to fit in snarky comments to Clayton, come up with new nicknames for my dog, re-watch all seven seasons of Gilmore Girls and find four new blogs to follow. I can’t handle all this pressure!

The Mission:


I realized that sneaky deadline was fast approaching and turned it up a notch. I spent the next four-ish weeks finishing the fourth assignment. Gonna need a notch or two higher than that, unfortch.

Now it’s getting serious. I have about 7 weeks and 5 assignments left. So that’s why I’m blogging about needing to get to work rather than getting to work. It’s called laying the groundwork, people.

It’s a bit daunting because each assignment requires me to read an entire novel. Plus, it’s a Brit Lit class, and I don’t speak British (though my accent is uncanny). I guess I just needed to put this out there so that I can’t flake out and have to pay the $3 million out of state tuition again. My husband says I have to move out if that happens and I don’t know how to fashion an effective street weapon from used Starbucks coffee cups yet.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you happen to have the Cliffs Notes for 1984, could you Facebook message me?

Parking Illegally is Kind of My Thing Anyway

Dear College,

No, I will not pay you $161.00 for permission to park on your campus. Will you guarantee me a parking space every time I arrive? Didn’t think so. Do you remember that little bill you sent me for my measly 9 hours of classes? Wouldn’t a small fraction of that be more than enough to cover a 5×10 concrete parking space? Oh, wait, I forgot that you were still paying off the $27,000 topiary bull, apparently a necessary enhancement of my educational experience. So, thanks for the suggestion. I’d really love to help fund your next $136,000 bull statues; it’s such a great idea to help cheer people up when they’re getting laid off and losing health insurance and receiving foreclosure notices. I know that when we calculate all of our student loans and how many years it’s going to put us in debt and realize our savings could barely pay for my Starbucks habit for a month, what really turns my mood around is the thought of “three life-sized bull statues running through the water.” Good luck with that, brilliant and not-at-all misguided decision makers. Don’t think I’ll be able to make it to the unveiling ceremony, though. I’ll be busy looking for a parking space. 

All my love,


Palm Trees Don’t Count

No other feeling in life compares to the last day of class, the feeling of accomplishing something worthwhile, the feeling of completion, and the feeling of not having to twist uncomfortably in my chair to make my stomach stop growling for three whole weeks!

After my final exam today, I was so excited to be free of school that I raced home and am currently rewarding myself with Shark Week reruns. (Don’t even get me started about the horrific, mesmorizing glory that is Shark Week.) In addition to turning on the t.v., I simulatenously flipped on the dishwasher and my laptop, put my cell phone on the coffee table to keep it within reach, and retrieved an IKEA catalog. And then after I sat down and tried to decide which drug I wanted to snort first, I thought, woa, kiddo…stimuli, much? That’s correct, I call myself kiddo when I’m being philosophical. How in the world does having every possible form of distraction equate to freedom? Now, I’m not going to spin off into a lecture about how sometimes we just need to turn off the freaking t.v. or how technology is destroying the beautiful necessity of alone time. I’m just saying that’s a lot of stuff happening at one time, and it was almost scary how mechanical it had become to create that space of sensory bombardment. Not to mention that, to me, having all this meaningless distraction signified a celebration. A celebration of what, exactly? Getting to drool over decorative home goods that I’ll never actually own? Obsessively checking my cell phone just in case it decided not to ring? Yeah, that doesn’t really scream party hats and streamers to me.

With this in mind I have to start planning a mini vacation for Clayton and I during our breaks from school. We will only have 4-5 days and both want to spend those days surrounded by trees, fresh air, and, ideally, humidity that remains in the single digits.  The words Appalachian Trail have been tossed around, but the idea of four actual walls and a mattress seems more vacation-like to me. Any suggestions?

New Grads, Pay Attention

I don’t know that it would be wise to give away too many specifics about where I will be interning this fall. I’ve been scared straight by this story. What I can say is that there are certain things you might want to consider when preparing for an interview of any kind.

1.  Give yourself two hours to get there. I don’t care if the interview is at your next door neighbor’s house. If you hit even one snag of traffic or a low gas tank, you’ll begin the downward panicking spiral of “what-if-I’m-late-oh-my-god-they’re-going-to-laugh-me-out-the-door-if-I’m-late-crap-I-don’t-have-their-number-could-I-google-it-oh-my-god-I-can’t-believe-I’m-going-to-be-late!” Not to mention a few choice words that I don’t feel comfortable typing and am still surprised at how they screeched out of my mouth at every red light. And you really, really don’t want to go there. Trust me.

2.  Don’t pee when you arrive at the office. Hold it, for goodness sake. I don’t care how many lattes you had that morning because you had to wake up at 4:15am. Otherwise, you could run the risk of (and don’t judge, because I KNOW you’ve been here) the dribble. That’s right, the dribble. The thing that happens when you squat to be sanitary and everything that’s supposed to land in the porcelain receptacle doesn’t. Some of it finds a way between the lid and the bowl and splashes down to the laminate floor, which happens to be where your pant legs are. Enough said. The panic accompanying the dribble is one that I refuse to relive. Use your imagination. I’ll just say that had there been a window in the bathroom providing a safe escape back to the parking lot, there’s a good chance that office would be telling the new fall intern about that one prospect who went to the bathroom and was never seen again.

But, alas, I recovered. And here’s what I can tell you about the place I’ll be spending 2-3 afternoons a week starting in September: I’ll be able to wear jeans and flats, there is no exercise equipment, my nose piercing is perfectly acceptable (almost blasé), and the walls are electric blue. Interested?

Yes, please.

Classroom Etiquette

There are two kinds of people in the world:

the first kind uses a 15 minute break to walk down four flights of stairs to eat a protein bar and take three chugs of water before heading back up the four flights of stairs to class, arriving with about 11 minutes of the break left.

the second kind returns late to a crowded quiet class after a 15 minute break carrying a full value meal they intend to eat throughout the next hour and a half of lecturing. Rather than go for the inconspicuous turkey deli sandwich with mustard, they opt for a foot-long beefy something or other bathed in oily, dripping, cream-based sauces and dipped in garlic.

I’ll go ahead and let you guess which camp I fall into. Now, the rows of desks in Cooper Hall classrooms are as close as one might imagine in the English building of a university dedicated to medical research. It’s quite snug. (I hear the Biomedical Sciences building has leather recliners in the chemistry labs.) So when Ms. Inspirational-Tattoo-on-the-Nape-of-My-Neck brings her triple-meated Subway club back into class, I feel like I am taking every bite with her. And for 90 minutes I have to force attention away from the circling, nauseating stench of meat and cheese and condiments (and chips!) so that I don’t throw up my protein bar right there on top of my American Literature Anthology.

And because that last half of class is an utter waste of time in terms of how much of our poem explication is sticking in my distracted head, I’m thinking I might slip a little bill for half the cost of this course down into her mile-long Subway bag on the last day. In terms of my mental and physical capacity to firmly lodge vomit right in the back of my throat and forbid it to fully exit my lips, this experience is doing wonders for me! I will certainly think of tattoo-neck the next time I take a client with exceptionally stinky body odor or the next time a friend of mine rents “The Miracle of Life” from the library.

I Am Now Unashamedly That Kid

You’re going to roll your eyes when I tell you this, but honesty is just my policy.

I am heading off to class today with not one essay to turn in, but two. Were two assigned? No. Just the one. But gosh darn it if I couldn’t fit all my insightful prose into the one and a half page maximum. So you know what I did? I emailed my teacher and complained that I am such an overachieving kiss-ass that I can’t stop myself from getting SO MUCH KNOWLEDGE out of this little poem I’m writing about. Or something like that. And man, if she didn’t eat that right up. (I don’t think she’ll have any more problems remembering the name of that A++ student any more.) She is the one who then suggested I turn in two essays because what else does an English professor have to do on the weekends besides read mediocre last-minute overly-googled essays about 20th century poetry? Not much, apparently. So she’s all excited about two essays that promise to be non-mediocre and I’m all excited about getting back not one A paper, but two!

And this is what happens when an expert procrastinator begins paying for their own college tuition.


I have a crush. On a Japanese girl in my night class.

I really try not to do this, but I am the person who treats someone who can’t speak English fluently like a confused five year old. It doesn’t matter that the person could be 16 or 60; I feel like I have to talk extremely slow and extremely loud and keep my eyes freakishly wide and my eyebrows lifted up over my head in order for them to understand me. Which they won’t, no matter how deliberately I spell out, “DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR MOMMY IS?”

This helps explain why I am smitten. Next week is the last week of one of my classes, and last night we started doing individual presentations. The fourth presenter was a tiny Japanese girl I’d never spoken to and only knew by the simple fact that she often comes in 15 minutes late to class and wears cute J-Crewish outfits. But, oh, how the tardiness was forgiven when she began her PowerPoint presentation with quiet, broken English. First of all, it was about why Americans should start recycling. That speech could have been given by an obese walrus and I would have fallen in love. Not to mention it was so obvious that she had rehearsed this five-minute speech, especially tough words like “the global warming” and “fuel emissions,” a million times. I couldn’t stop my mouth from forming a creepy, motherly smile and I’m pretty sure I started nodding encouragingly at one point. She must think I’m a total spaz.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t want to share something like this because I know it’s completely unfair and infantalizing for her. But I saw the rest of the class internally gushing just as much as I was, and, as decent as her presentation was, it did not merit the overwhelming applause that followed it. The guy sitting next to me (who I believe was half asleep for the first three presentations) clapped so loudly my ears were ringing well into the next speech. Needless to say, I’ve got some competition. We only have two more classes next week, which is not much time to make sure we become BFF forever and ever. I’m already trying to plan my outfit for my presentation on the last day of class. I’m pretty sure the only thing I own from J. Crew is a bridesmaid dress.

I have a funny feeling that “restraining order” might sound the same in Japanese and English.

Getting My Feet Wet. In Flats.

I was only on USF’s campus for a grand total of 20 minutes, but it was plenty of time to remind me of all those irritating things I absolutely do not miss from being the new kid at college:
Parking. Parking. Parking.
Crossing the same street three times before finally turning my hand drawn map the right way to point me in the proper direction of the building I am looking for.
I forgot just how hot it gets walking around in Florida. To be more specific, I forgot it can be 85 degrees in January in Florida.
New places and strangers stress me out. This plus the heat is not a pleasant combo for anyone sitting next to me for an hour and a half class.

The culmination of the aggravation came when I finally made it to the third floor of the English building to find that the advisor I was there to see was out sick. Thanks for coming, but we can’t help you. Try your luck tomorrow.

This is probably the worst thing of all about being a college student: the sheer helplessness. There was not a thing I could do to change the situation. It is this way during every step of the collegiate career — getting a B for tardiness despite acing every test and assignment, disputing erroneous parking tickets and, perhaps the most infuriating of all, dealing with the financial aid department. You can only complain so much and plead your case so many times before realizing there isn’t anything you can do or anyone you can talk to who really gives a crap about the grade you got in Spanish I or that your parking permit WAS properly displayed. You just have to deal.

So I walked back to the parking garage where I had paid for parking for 2 hours and swerved through what seemed like a million 18-year old pedestrians in Rainbow flip flops, half the girls looking like Mary-Kate Olsen and the other half like one of the Girls Next Door. I couldn’t help but ask myself if I was completely certain that this is what I wanted to get myself into again. And it only took about a millisecond for me to answer with a resounding, unwavering yes!

I am headed back to campus today for another shot at meeting with the advisor (but not without calling first this time). After that, maybe I’ll go to work or maybe I’ll go pick up a new pair of Rainbows.