The year I fell in love with forensics

I took my forensics team to their first tournament of the year this weekend. Most were at a tournament for their first time. They are young but full of potential, and I genuinely enjoy working with them. Of course, there is a part of me that would be happy to have a full team of singularly talented students who need little coaching but walk away with team trophies every week. It’s the part of me that likes to win, which anyone who has ever played a board game with me will tell you I like to do.

That part of me shrinks a little bit every year, as I learn to appreciate forensics more and more. When you don’t have a team of ingenues, what you learn to fall in love with is the progress, the personal milestones that more often than not go unrewarded outside of a hushed conversation in a high school stairwell. “I think I did my best performance yet in that round!” “I made it through my speech without a single stumble!” “I didn’t get any 5s today!”

As my appreciation of the activity grows, I’m reminded of the year I fell in love with forensics. Before I can tell you that story, however, we have to go back to my introduction to high school speech. And in order to tell the story of how I joined the forensics team, I have to explain Flan.

Kathy Flannery was a legend in the forensics world when I unwittingly stepped into her line of sight. I loved her immediately but not for the right reasons. She was a cartoon of a woman, pastel sweater-clad, cat-loving, shoeless, messy long gray braid placed over one shoulder and cascading over an ample and poorly supported bosom. My teenage brain could barely take her all in at once. When she spoke, I was reminded of Luna of the Lunataks, a group of adversaries from Thundercats. Her voice was childlike but raspy at the same time. I had only stopped by the forensics meeting to meet a friend who was going to give me a ride home, but now I was caught in Flan’s web. Earlier that day, I had given a speech in front of the freshman class to be their class president, and with that fact loaded like a bullet in a forensics gun, Flan had me. (She would tell me I am using too many metaphors for one paragraph if she were editing this blog post.)

With Flan’s assistance, I wrote my first Public Address, and after my first round of competition, this forensics thing clicked in my brain. By week two, I was taking home trophies. The part of me that likes to win was jumping up and down. She and I repeated that success my sophomore year. I loved the accolades. I loved how valued I felt because I was a points-earning machine. But I didn’t yet love forensics, though I didn’t know it at the time.

My junior year, a lot changed. I moved into a harder category and success was not so easy. Because my motivation for competing was to do well, forensics lost its spark. (In hindsight, I wasn’t doing poorly. I often found myself in finals rounds, I just wasn’t winning those final rounds.) To go to state, you had to be one of the top 25 most successful entries on the team. North High was blessed enough at that time to have a very large team, and I was number 26. By every measure of my adolescent brain, I had failed miserably.

And this was when I learned to love forensics. When I could no longer confuse my love for winning with a love for the activity, I saw all the great things forensics had provided for me. I would never again need to worry about getting up in front of people to speak. I had become a better writer. And most importantly, I had found my people. My teammates, who I had assumed were being nice to me because I was adding value to the team, were nice to me even when I wasn’t winning. I looked around the room at a meeting, and I saw my friends.

I feel like being a teenager gets harder every year. The young people on my team know so much more about each other without interacting in real life, and I think that puts a strain on personal relationships that is unhealthy. I hope that they, too, can look around the room at a meeting and see their friends. I hope that they, too, can learn to love forensics not for the successes, but for the many ways it will benefit them later in life. I hope that, like me, one or two of these young people grow up to coach forensics. I love this activity. I’m so happy to be sharing it with my team.

I’m also thrilled to share my love of forensics with listeners of the Forensics Faces podcast, which started its weekly regular season episodes this week. If you want to learn more about forensics, I recommend you take a listen.

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My New Year’s Evolution

Because I spend a lot of time with high school students (there is no way to make that sound less creepy. I tried several variations), I am often reminded how many years stand between me and my high school career. The turning of the calendar signifies so much more than a new year. I find myself reflecting more than looking ahead. What opportunities did I miss this year? Am I where I thought I’d be by this age? Will I ever know what I want to be when I grow up?

I consider it both an asset and a flaw that I tend to overthink…well, everything. When faced with a decision or an obstacle, I quickly weigh every outcome, how others will react, and how I’ll describe my actions to some future person who has the misfortune to ask what I’ve been up to lately. This is a good thing because I tend to move forward with an efficient sense of confidence when a decision has been made. The same overthinking, however, can also cripple me. If I’m not sure what I’m doing will lead to a positive outcome, I will wait patiently for someone to notice that I’m standing with a vacant expression on my face to say, “Sir, are you OK? Should I call someone for you?” I’ll snap out of it, but only because this kind stranger called me sir, and when did everyone start doing that?!

I lived in a state of indecision for years. I worked in an office because I made decent money and liked most of the people there. Was it the career I hoped to have? No. Did I know what career I wanted? No. So stick around a few more years? Why not.

In 2016, a series of what I now know were fortunate events forced me to snap out of my malaise. If I ever hoped to be fulfilled in what I did every day, I needed to make a change. So I quit.

This is the part at which I feel I should say things like, “I did it because I realized that I’m worth it,” and, “Happiness is something you work hard for every day.” Those things are probably (hopefully?) true. But they didn’t affect my decision to uproot my professional life and pursue my passions. More than anything else, I was spurred to action by the people around me.

For a couple years now, I’ve noticed the social media feeds of friends filling up with messages of self-empowerment, healthier living, and taking control of their lives. And, damnit, I was jealous. And I knew it was petty to be jealous, so I pushed those feelings away and went on with my life.

Until I didn’t.

With the support of my fiancé, I let the jealousy morph into motivation. I summoned the courage to put into words the unhappiness I felt. And when I finally said it out loud, I realized how long I’d been coasting.

Then, with even more support from my fiancé, and even more encouragement from friends, I identified what my passion was and I started to pursue it. I’m three audiobooks and two podcasts into living my dreams, and I don’t have any plans to slow down now. With the emotional cobwebs swept from my personality, I feel like I’m enjoying the full spectrum of the human experience again. I laugh more. I’m playful. I make a point to reach out to friends to just enjoy their company. I still overthink things, but I don’t lose sleep over them anymore. I know that everything I do is either advancing my personal and professional goals, or it’s not. And that simple truth should freeze me in my tracks because I can’t possibly know whether every decision is the right one. But I’m not standing still anymore.

At least not metaphorically. I still occasionally need some time to think, and everyone should just let me mutter quietly to myself. And if you care for me at all, you won’t call me sir.

WOLFSONG by TJ Klune

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You can order the audiobook of Wolfsong by TJ Klune now!

Ox was 12 when his daddy taught him a very valuable lesson. He said that Ox wasn’t worth anything and people would never understand him. Then he left.

Ox was 16 when he met the boy on the road, the boy who talked and talked and talked. Ox found out later the boy hadn’t spoken in almost two years before that day, and that the boy belonged to a family who had moved into the house at the end of the lane.

Ox was 17 when he found out the boy’s secret, and it painted the world around him in colors of red and orange and violet.

Ox was 23 when murder came to town and tore a hole in his head and heart. The boy chased after the monster with revenge in his blood red eyes, leaving Ox behind to pick up the pieces.

It’s been three years since that fateful day and the boy is back. Except now he’s a man, and Ox can no longer ignore the song that howls between them.

©2016 TJ Klune (P)2016 Dreamspinner Press