Monthly Archives: June 2011

burnout

It is now patently clear that I made the right choice in leaving, because returning to the place where I lived and taught this school year has precipitated a complete and utter meltdown.  For starters, I am already on the low end of the serotonin spectrum because of my body’s natural cycle, and the 5-HTP is not helping as much as it had been for some reason.  Being away from the friends I was re-meeting is apparently still traumatic enough to send me down a bad road.  (It honestly took me about a week to calm down and realize that they weren’t going to disappear overnight.)  Before I came back for the workshop, I joked that I didn’t want to come because I thought it would get me all excited about teaching again, when that is really not what I want to do.

Turns out I was partially right, except that I am not excited at all about the thought of going back to the classroom.  I think that may be due to the fact that I don’t yet have a classroom to go back to, so the thought of preparing lesson plans that I mayl never use is just depressing.  (I did that for a year already…it’s called grad school.)  But on a more fundamental level, it feels like the light has gone out for me.  I’ve wondered before whether I am too idealistic to be a teacher, and this year’s disappointments have been all but crushing.

Why didn’t I see this sooner?  Self-imposed optimism is my response to the demands and expectations of others.  When I feel like I must do something to win approval or meet expectations, I convince myself that it is simply a wonderful thing to do that I will enjoy immensely.  This psychological self-adjustment is often powerful enough to change my perception of the task, and I gain enough comfort from knowing that I’ve done what I should do to offset the discomfort of the “should” itself.  That was not the case this year, however,  and even as it was liberating to let go of the mask, it is also excruciatingly difficult to expose my own insecurity and uncertainty.

And now I have no idea what the hell I’m doing.

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The Estuary

The Estuary

At the edge of the estuary where
the river vomits a bolus of silt that hangs
suspended in a density column of water and brine,
where the sediments billow and surge
like an underwater dust storm,
I pull up the oars of my sea kayak and wait awhile.
My little boat sits parallel to the coast, and the waves pull
and push lazily. To one side is the wide yawning
mouth of the river and to the other the lapping tongues of the sea.
Each beckons with its own peculiar call:
“Come,” they both say.
The voice of the river is thick and languid
but the voice of the ocean roars like a lion,
demanding an answer.
The river will take me nowhere, I know,
but the ocean will bear me nowhere I know.
The known nothing, or the unknown everything?
I dip the oars and turn my sea kayak
where it was meant to go,
pulling myself forward
and leaving the estuary.

(Written after the style of Elizabeth Bishop on November 11, 2009, with minor changes to punctuation made when I transcribed it today.)

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living in the ellipsis

For the last week or so I’ve been digesting a chapter of A Balanced Christian Lifetitled, “Blessed Are the Meek” as I consider what to do with myself now that I have officially left my teaching position.  The writer focuses on Moses, a character of the Old Testament who “attempted to help God with human wisdom and power.”  To make a long Hebrew story short: Moses grows up as the adopted son of Egyptian royalty, with all the power and privilege inherent therein.  The Israelites, who are his actual forebears, are slaves of the Egyptians and it is Moses who eventually leads them out of slavery.  But before this can happen, Moses is pulled from his comfortable life and languishes in the desert for forty-some years, so that by the time God finally calls him to do something, his confidence is pretty much toast.

Oh Moses, I can relate.  It wasn’t forty years, and it was ghettos’n’cornfields, not a desert,  but to my battered spirit this year was the culmination of a period of desolation.  “Again and again He places you there, without giving you favorable environment, so that you may submit yourself under His might hand.  This is to test whether or not you will do His will, for your own will must be dealt with.”  I won’t speak about my choice of teaching as a career, but surely my withdrawal from community and loss of my self was not God’s will, and I admit that I chose this path for myself.  I ignored several warning signs and plowed ahead, thinking I knew what I was doing, that I was bound by my own expectations of what my life should be like, and to some degree serving my pride over what I’d accomplished so that I was reluctant to turn my back on it.  But after my first year in the classroom, I have to admit honestly that I don’t feel very good at what I’m doing, and that perhaps classroom teaching is not the best use of my strengths.

But Nee also writes, “Knowing one’s own uselessness alone is still useless.  The important thing is to know the power of God….If we stay [at the place of no self-confidence and no self-reliance] and refuse to go forward by trusting in God, we will greatly displease Him.”  Right now I am quite ready to admit my own weakness, but rather afraid to move forward from that point and admit my strengths and passions.  Writing brings me to life.  Counseling brings me to life.  Hell, showing girls how to use makeup brings me to life.  And yet to pursue those means starting a new chapter, which always scares the crap out of me.  In the words of Maia Sharp, “…every beginning means something else is ending.”  We talked on Sunday about how any sort of self-death is terrifying, even for Christians, because you just can’t know (in the sense that we as humans understand knowing) that resurrection is going to happen.  But that’s where faith comes in, right?  Right?  Right…

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Untitled

I remember everything and I remember nothing
everything that hurts and nothing that heals
can’t I remember everything?
can’t i remember nothing?
why must I remember both–and neither?

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another piece of juvenilia

Last night I went to a reading and workshop with author Lee Martin, where I ran into my creative writing teacher from high school.  Slightly baffled by her effusive praise of my adolescent writing, I went in search of my work from that period and I was somewhat surprised to see that my voice has not changed significantly since then.  Whether that means I have completely failed to grow or that I was actually fairly well-developed as a writer remains to be seen.  I suspect that the true answer lies somewhere in the middle: the same emotional and mental patterns will tessellate through the course of my life; only the colors and scale change.  Here is what I consider one of my better poems from my senior year of high school, written in response to a simple classroom prompt, and the funniest part is that I had no idea how accurately and repeatedly it would ring true for me in the six years to come.

Bittersweet is
knowing exactly what to say
but having no chance to say it,
not knowing what to say
when the opportunity arises,
discovering the terrible truth
just in time to run for your life,
wasting your time in ignorance
but enjoying it while it lasts,
doing something
you wish you hadn’t,
not doing what
you know you should have,
making the call
so you can hang up the phone,
waiting for the call
so you can ignore the phone,
telling the truth
and being punished,
living a lie
and losing yourself,
loving someone
who can’t love back,
being unable to return
someone’s hopeless affection,
knowing you’re right
when no one else does,
being told you’re wrong
when you just can’t see it,
writing a poem
so you don’t scream out loud.

(2005)

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Read for my life

“The primary purpose of a novelist is to practice empathy.” –Lee Martin

I would posit that is also the primary purpose of a reader, or at least this particular reader, which may be why bibliotherapy (as distinguished from reading self-help books) has historically proven to be a rather effective practice for me.  Reflection and empathy are fairly instinctive for me, so I tend to seek and find connections with my life in nearly everything I read.  (I choose to believe that this a benign function of my natural empathy rather than a case of raging narcissism.) Some particularly meaningful texts for me include The Great Divorce and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, The Shack by William P. Young, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, and lately the novels of Susan Howatch.

Howatch’s novels, at least the two I have read so far, seem designed to exploit my navel-gazing tendencies in order to show me myself, which makes me wonder whether this is another case of God using a cute boy to lead me to the words I need to hear. (Sigh.)  I opened the first book, Glittering Images, in search of answers about Friend, but wound up learning a great deal more about myself, and the most important takeaway was probably that “I was working to give [his] death meaning by my own rebirth,” which also echoes the lesson of The Great Divorce.

Glamorous Powers features a protagonist much more, I thought, like myself: possessed of intuition honed to the point of psychic ability, requiring more psychic space than was made available by his family, a teacher of difficult students, and, most importantly, wrestling with what he perceives as the call to leave his former calling.  (Did I mention that he’s a monk?  So…toss celibacy and austerity in there for good measure.)  I dog-eared and underlined not a few passages that seemed particularly relevant:

“I think that any corruption of your call is going to come from the dark side of your personality within you, not from the dark forces of the Devil without.” (see the end of my post Born This Way)

“Because he was a good monk he did his best to go on as usual, but slowly the bad fairy tiptoed back into his life and all those unfortunate flaws in his personality began to emerge again.  Our hero became restless and dissatisfied.  He fought to overcome these feelings by diverting himself with hard work, but this only made him exhausted and once the echaustion began he slipped into a depression.” (What a succinct description of the last 18 months of my life!)

“I had the opportunity to rise above my own pain by thinking of someone other than myself.” (An admirable and oft-felt sentiment of mine, except when it degenerates into codependency.)

There was a point in my reading, however, when I started seeing others in the character that was supposed to be me, and myself in other characters.  (Which leads me to wonder whether I am not so different from everyone as I thought!)

“Men had always let her down, never asking her to dance, never taking any genuine interest in her, never realising she was just as much a human being as the girls who has the luck to be pretty.”

“You married a woman you didn’t love because you knew that if she left you, you wouldn’t care enough to suffer as you’d suffered once before.” (Bend the genders a bit here…the point is a warning that my efforts to avoid my own suffering can do immeasurable damage to others.)

I guess I probably shouldn’t attempt to quote the entire book on here, which is kind of what I feel like doing.  There’s a whole other dimension of parent-child relations that I haven’t even begun to process, so I’m just going to sum this session of bibliotherapy thus: Be yourself, and let others be themselves.  My parents, particularly my mother, have had a hard time doing this for me, and that I think is one of the roots of my difficulty in doing so for others.  But I’m determined to revisit the topic of boundaries this summer and beyond, and I do think it will enrich most, if not all, areas of my life.

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A Home


“A Home”
performed by The Dixie Chicks, written by Maia Sharp

I mistook the warnings for wisdom
From so called friends quick to advise
Though your touch was telling me otherwise
Somehow I saw you as a weakness
I thought I had to be strong
Oh but I was just young, I was scared, I was wrong

Not a night goes by
I don’t dream of wandering
Through the home that might have been
And I listened to my pride
When my heart cried out for you
Now every day I wake again
In a house that might have been
A home

Guess I did what I did believing
That love is a dangerous thing
Oh but that couldn’t hurt anymore than never knowing

Not a night goes by
I don’t dream of wandering
Through the home that might have been
And I listened to my pride
When my heart cried out for you
Now every day I wake again
In a house that might have been
A home
A home

Four walls, a roof, a door, some windows
Just a place to run when my working day is through
They say home is where the heart is
If the exception proves the rule I guess that’s true

Not a night goes by
I don’t dream of wandering
Through the home that might have been
And I listened to my pride
When my heart cried out for you
Now every day I wake again
In a house that might have been
A home
A home

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A personal and only marginally relevant response to the merit pay discussion

“[Teachers] get up early and do this very difficult job, pay for their own school supplies and work on lesson plans – all for very little money and little recognition,” he said.”The idea that you would use money to motivate them doesn’t seem to make sense.” -Daniel Pink, quoted in The Columbus Dispatch, emphasis mine

Money has never been much of a motivator for me in general, but that’s because money has never been an issue for me or my family.  (There, I said it, and hopefully I can continue with this post without feeling like a total hypocrite.)  I know I am in a far better situation than many people of my age, education, and occupation.  I know that walking away from a perfectly secure job in search of something more fulfilling is a privilege that millions of people don’t have (which is why I still feel kind of guilty about it).  I know that saying I didn’t become a teacher for the money may ring hollow because of my circumstances, but I’m going to go ahead and claim it anyway.

I became a teacher so I could keep learning for my whole life–about my subject, my students, and myself.  I never wanted to be one of those teachers who goes by the book and cruises through her 35 years without changing a thing.  We live in a big world and even if I can’t learn everything, I intend to try!

I became a teacher so I could share in my students’ successes and walk with them through setbacks.  I don’t think we ever outgrow the need for someone to be on our side; I know I haven’t.

I became a teacher to educate, which comes from educe, meaning to bring out or develop that which is latent.  Seeing people grow is probably my favorite part of existence.

I don’t know of a fair system for compensating teachers, because so much of the work they do is intangible.  To pay based solely on test scores or even on evaluations of teaching is simplistic and perhaps a bit demeaning, as though all teachers do is deliver a product.  I don’t want to think of a child, or any person at all, as a mere product, but then how do you quantify any of the helping professions?  I don’t know, and I don’t pretend to know, but all I can say is that it would be nice not to be treated like a machine in a factory.

Worthington Arts Festival

My mom and I went to the Worthington Arts Festival in the charming Village Green.  Here are just some of the things we saw: