Watching myself lecture in class today, I realized that there’s this emotional energy I get from teaching and from getting a whole class to take a journey with me that i s really amazing. Everyone keeps telling me the same thing. I seem like this quiet, subdued instructor (or kid really) until the second class starts. And then try and interrupt my class. People walk in or out of class? Yup, just fold it straight into the lecture.

I’m finally in my element. And having so much fun. It’s a great feeling to have. And such a long time in coming. So much work led to this point. And it’s finally feeling worthwhile.

Even though I get exhausted and still have to spend long periods of time in bed or just resting, it finally feels like I’m where I’m meant to be. The exciting part is that everyone can tell, too. Students and colleagues tell me all the time that they’re big doubters until the second my class starts. And then there’s no doubt in their mind. This is it. The real Abigail has arrived.

It’s an amazing feeling.


Working Retail Plus Teaching… and other Random Thoughts

So I just finished reading tons of posts on Ludo Stories: Tales of Triumph and Tragedy after Law School. Then I penned a long letter to Ludo, which I traditionally never do, because his blog has been a big source of inspiration to me, and I like telling people that they have a positive impact on my life. After I hit send on the letter with at least three postscripts (!!), I thought of yet another thing that I wanted to tell him. And I realized that while I could send him yet another comment, it was probably worth actually updating my blog instead. This post is for Ludo and for all my loyal readers who have not abandoned me after two months of silence. Thank you.

As you may recall, I am now a part-time instructor. I teach history at a local university, and I love it! It has been extremely time-consuming and also emotionally fulfilling, so I haven’t had the need or the time to devote to this blog. Anyhow, as I was writing this evening, it suddenly dawned on me why I was so invested in my lecture content today. Allow me to invite you into my classroom:

…the Gilded Age, which spans roughly from 1870 to 1890. This time period is known for its corruption in business and politics, which resulted, among other things, in a very stark wealth inequality. As intellectuals tend to do, many intellectuals debated this social dilemma at the time and came up with several theories about the present social stratification: (1) “Survival of the fittest”. Deserving people are rich. Undeserving people are poor. To help the poor is to fight nature. (2) The rich have a responsibility to help the poor but only in the way that they see fit. This often means providing resources to the poor from a distance. (3) Good people should improve society by launching campaigns to remove vices like drinking to excess and illiteracy in order to providing the opportunity for deserving people to have a chance to rise above their circumstances.

Back to the soapbox: So the thing is that I firmly believe that not working hard and not being educated and not following the rules sets you up for failure (or at least trouble), but I don’t believe that the inverse is true. I see at my retail job good people who are stuck for working minimum wage because they have a criminal record or they don’t have a high school diploma and they feel stuck where they are. And I want (most) of these people to have the opportunity to do better because they’re good people who are my friends (at least at work.) But the rough part for me is that I work very hard, I’m very well educated, and I followed most of the rules. And it’s hard to figure out how I got to the place that I am.

One customer told me the other day that I was lying when I said that I had a degree from the neighboring university because anyone who did would not be working a job like I was. And I was floored. I just laughed at him and said, Good one! because I didn’t know what else to say. But it’s hard sometimes. Because the reality hurts. It really does. And I feel like the lion is roaring and winning all over again. Why can’t I have a job that I can be proud of and post on FB, etc?

There is a reason why I choose this particular point to emphasize to my students. It’s definitely only a part of the Gilded Age, but I think it’s important to understand the assumptions that society makes about certain outcomes and how ingrained they are in our perceptions of the world. These assumptions are not new, but looking at them from a distance can sometimes be a light-bulb moment. As hilarious as Social Darwinism sounds today, an awful lot of the time I find myself sliding into that presumption. And I want my students to pause and think about it. Because life doesn’t always turn out the way you think. And you might wind up on the receiving end of these presumptions.

The thing that I have to remind myself is that I know exactly why I’m working the retail job and I know what’s in it for me. I need to be there because I need the cash but also the somewhat flexible hours. I need the human interaction to keep me from going crazy. I need the opportunity to constantly practice interacting with people and working with panic attacks and facing tough situations with other people. This particular job is a safe space for me to do that and provides a means for me to talk through situations with management so that I can actually improve and become a better person. I’m lucky to have the manager I do who understands this. But every time someone gets promoted over me or a guest tells me that I’m not smart enough or I’m better than this or whatever, I try to remind myself that it makes sense for me right now in this particular moment. And that’s all that matters. But that personal confidence has taken a long time to come to, and it sure would be nice if more people were on board with a broader view of life and the curveballs it throws us. In the mean time, it’s nice to know that I’m not alone. Thanks Ludo!


P.S. A followup on my last post: I wound up with over 80% participation in Operation Gratitude!! I mailed a huge box of over 100 letters and felt very accomplished. Definitely a highlight of that semester. (I tried to write at least one letter every day of the challenge and penned at least 20. If you haven’t figured it out already, I like writing letters!)

Operation Gratitude

Working three jobs has been exhausting but also illuminating. This blog has been silent because my life has been full!!

At my retail job, we’ve been writing cards to anonymous members of the armed services as part of our contribution to Operation Gratitude. I’ve been racking my brain for a good extra credit project to give my students, not only so they can earn a few more points to their final grade but also so that they can learn to be productive members of society. That’s when I realized that Operation Gratitude was the perfect fit!!!

My pitch to the students:

Boost your grade, build community, be part of America, and do a good deed: all at the same time!!

I’ve asked my students to turn in a handwritten card thanking an anonymous member of the armed services for their service & to wish them well this holiday season. If they do so, they earn 0.5 points added to their final grade. If they can get >95% of the class to participate, there’s an additional 1.0 point bonus.

It’s been exciting to watch them take on the challenge of collective action. I’ve been really impressed and encouraged by my students’ responses. Some of them are one sentence thank-you-for-letting-me-get-extra-credit-in-this-class but most of them are heartfelt letters of gratitude and admiration. A lot of my students pour their hearts out into these letters, and I can see that they’ve taken to heart the cost of the freedom and liberty we enjoy and the degree to which we are all part of a community. These men and women need our support and encouragement as much as we need their work overseas. It’s always exciting to see people applying what they learn in class to real life situations.

I’m a big believer that if you have high expectations, your students will rise to the challenge. My favorite comment by Amy Sherman-Palladino about her series Gilmore Girls was that it was so successful because she crammed so many pop references into each episode and so much dialogue into each scene. There’s no way that you can catch everything on the first watch, but you’re so intrigued by each episode that you want to watch again. She has commented that people often assume that people who watch TV are stupid and that TV shows need to be dumbed down for people to appreciate them. Instead, she challenges her viewers to have a higher standard. And it works. That’s why we love her shows.

So far, about 1/3 of my class has participated in the challenge. They have a week left, so there’s still a lot of time for them to get their act together. We’ll see how things progress.

I’ve challenged myself to also write at least one card a day for every day of the drive. I’ve written 9 cards so far (with one week to go). It’s getting more challenging to find something different to say each time, but it’s a good challenge, one that’s appropriately achievable for me.

I’m excited that I’m feeling well enough these days to do things for other people. I’m also really excited that I’ve been able to rally my students together to do something for others and to show them that it doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone else’s life.

That’s all for now,


I thought I did a good deed today

As I was driving to work today, I passed a man on the street holding a sign that read “I am very hungry. Bad. God Bless. Homeless.” or something to that effect. I try to keep change in my car for these occasions, but I didn’t have anything on me today. But I keep reading that sign: “I am very hungry. Bad.” And I wanted to do something. So I did the nicest thing I could think of. I rolled down my window and gave him my work snack. It was a bag of sweet potato chips. Delicious. I love them. But I can definitely live without them.

You could tell that he really appreciated the gesture. But he was really reluctant to take it. He said that the last time someone gave him food, he got really, really sick from it. How was he supposed to know that I wasn’t trying to poison him?

And I realized that it requires a lot of trust and faith to survive as a homeless person. You never know what the future holds, good or bad. In a sense, it’s you against the world, but in another sense, you rely on the generosity of others. Few trust you because of your status in the world, but your only way out is for someone to trust you even in a little, even just recognizing that you’re a human with needs.

So to the man on the road, I hope that my small bag of chips didn’t make you sick and actually brought you some nourishment. But if you threw it away or gave it someone else or to your dog, please know that I meant it for good. And that you touched my heart as well. I realized that even in what I share with others, I judge. And next time, instead of wondering what you’d use the money to buy, I’d be open to the possibility that you’re just as human as I am and are skeptical about the inherent goodness of the other people who inhabit this world.


CPBC: The Fault in Our Stars

Confession: I’m obsessed with The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. After I watched the movie, I listened to the audiobook. And then I bought the book. Now I have the movie. And yeah, I didn’t just listen, buy, and possess. I may have entire portions of this story memorized. (Just nowhere near as obsessed as Hazel is with An Imperial Afflication. So I suppose it could be a lot worse.)

Anyways, I put together a treasury of #tfios interpretations in art form. I have a really hard time with visuals. (Explains why I found audiobooks such a resource.) But it’s cool to see how other people have interpreted this story.

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But there are definitely a few things that have really helped me. First, the idea that persons who are chronically ill can love and have as deep psychological needs as other “normal” people. Hazel has a long soliloquy about Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and how according to his hierarchy, people are struggling to survive cannot think about art or the meaning of life, etc. But it’s simply not true. In fact, it seems that the fight for life makes those things even more important.

Second, the priest comforts Gus’ friends and family at his funeral by saying that in heaven, Gus is made whole, a conclusion that Hazel scoffs at. At first, I wasn’t sure what Green was getting at. Isn’t part of the next life about being freed from the body of this humiliation??

I was already starting to get [frustrated] at the minister when he said, “In heaven, Augustus will finally be healed and whole,” implying that he had been less whole than other people due to his leglessness, and I kind of could not repress my sigh of disgust.”

And I think that she does have a point here. Somehow, being sick makes you a less valid human in the eyes of some and it’s simply not true. This matches the first point.

Thirdly, the way in which John Green has Hazel defend Monica and her inability to deal with Isaac’s illness is unique and inherently helpful, particularly in light of the first two points. Even though people should treat those with chronic or terminal illnesses like real human beings, a lot times they don’t simply because they can’t. While that may be a weakness or feel unfair, if we are to cut ourselves slack and realize that we can’t be and do everything that we want to, then we also owe it to the rest of mankind to allow them to be true to their own capacity. Because nothing is worse than people pretending like they can do or be something that they really can’t (or don’t.)

Fourthly, I like the way Green deals with “encouragements”. Hazel has a really hard time with a lot of the standard lexicon of words to encourage the sick, but when Gus reveals the extent of his illness, she winds up giving him the whole litany of them. Why? Because the human understanding is often inadequate of dealing with the harsh reality of illness & death.

“You get to battle cancer,” I said. “That is your battle. And you’ll keep fighting,” I told him. I hated it when people tried to build me up to prepare for battle, but I did it to him, anyway. “You’ll… you’ll… live your best life today. This is your war now.” I despised myself for the cheesy sentiment, but what else did I have?

Even with the intimate and personal experience of illness, it can be difficult to relate or to know what to say. I love that Green has Hazel rely on words from support group: “Living our best life today” because it shows that support group really did help her through the most difficult times even though she would be the last one to ever admit it. And in the end, this reinforces point #3. Facing illness is really hard, and sometimes we do want to run away even if we know we shouldn’t.

And lastly, grief and illness doesn’t really change who you are. I love the way in which Green deals with this throughout the book. He talks about Gus’ handsomeness and thoughtfulness, which his sisters admires. He describes Isaac’s desperate need for love and Gus’ craving for the status of hero. He shows van Houten’s miserable, selfish ways before and after his daughter’s fight with cancer.

I was insufferable long before we lost her. Grief does not change you, Hazel. It reveals you.

I love this concept because I think we make illness too much a focus of our existence or our life story. But really, as Gus points out, it’s important to focus on you and not your “cancer” story (or whatever). Because who you are is only made more manifest by trouble and trials. Not the other way around.


P.S. Yes, I’m also reading This Light Won’t Go Out: The Life and Words of Esther Earl, a book based on the writings of a young woman who inspired and encouraged John Green and to whom his book is dedicated.


I should be sleeping but I suddenly had the motivation to clean my room. Seeing as how my room hasn’t been deep-cleaned since May at least and there’s still stuff I haven’t unpacked since I moved back almost 14 months ago, I figured I should just run with it.

So I spent the next two and a half hours cleaning and putting away clothes and throwing away junk that I have had since elementary school. I even cleaned out my “pharmacy”, which had meds filled in 2012!! I threw out food that I moved back with me but never unpacked.

– giant trash bag full of trash
– full trash can of plastic recycling
– full paper bag of paper recycling
– full paper bag of items for donating
– one dress for dry-cleaning
– full hamper of clothes to wash
– empty laundry basket of clean clothes
– mostly visible (but not so clean) floor
– noticeably less dust
– new memories for my project life album

Wow. I’m exhausted. (It’s surprising how much you can get done when you’re supposed to be heading one hundred papers!)

Abigail Cashelle

the tables have turned (in a good way)

Now that I’m on faculty at a university (can we just pause and reflect on how amazing that is??), I have a student in my class with a significant chronic illness. She came up to me with some paperwork from the Disability Office asking for some specific accommodations. Now accommodations are annoying to teachers, and I get why. You have some great plan and vision for your class, and all of a sudden some random person comes up to you and says, Sorry. Mandatory change of plans.

But I looked at her sheet and listened to what she had to say and realized that she wasn’t asking for a whole lot. In fact, she was asking for exactly what I asked the ravenous lion for on my very first encounter. She asked for a flexible attendance policy. Attendance is mandatory in my class. You can miss up to 3 classes penalty-free, and attendance counts as 10% of the grade. That’s bad news if you have an unpredictable chronic illness.

What made me really happy was that I was able to sit down with the student and talk through some of the logistics with her. I told her that I was more than happy to give her the full 10% as long as she realized that she was fully responsible for all the content in the class. If she missed a lot of classes, it would be a huge challenge to pass the class. (So it doesn’t really give her much of an advantage.)

But mostly we just talked about life with a chronic illness. I asked her if there was anything she wanted me to know about her illness, anything that I could do to make things easier or intervene in the case of an emergency. I told her that I myself have a chronic illness and am familiar with how scary that can seem to other people. And that secret made her really happy.

She said that most people are freaked out when they find out that she’s not healthy and immediately want her to vanish. And so she spends a lot of time thinking about accidentally making other people feel uncomfortable and how she can avoid that. She was really happy to meet a teacher who felt comfortable talking to her about it and who was immediately on her side. She said that she felt so much safer in the class.

I’m so happy that she found me approachable and understanding. I’m still really nervous about my illness and my lack of a Ph.D. in the department and haven’t told anyone at this university about my illness besides her. I know exactly how she feels because I live in that exact same world. But I’m glad that I could make her feel a little more at home in school. And it gives me a comrade too. Someone else who knows that I’m also struggling some and that sometimes, things are not what they appear.