One Day I’ll Write About This, But I Can’t Right Now

I’m hoping for a song that will come to me while I’m asleep
Because I can’t lie, so I can’t write
-Typhoon, “Hunger & Thirst”

“Pay attention while you’re teaching,” she says before I leave Arizona. “It will give you a lot to write about.”

“You should write these things down,” he says when I tell him the things that were said to me behind closed doors. “One day you’ll look back on them and realize. Maybe one day you’ll write about them.”

Writing is all I do. I eat sadness and spit out writing. I fall in love and spit out writing. I see empty benches and abandoned headphones and I spit out writing.

I write everywhere. I write on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. I write on my blog. I write text messages. I write poems on the Google Doc where I house them all, 55 pages and growing. I write in the small journal I carry in my purse. I write in the big journals I keep in my room. I write haiku on the white board on my fridge. I see everything and I spit out writing.

These days I almost write too much. I keep writing because I can’t capture, anymore, any of the important things happening around me.

It will give you a lot to write about, she says. But what about the things that were said to me behind closed doors? What about the bright, soft, innocent faces that greet me in the mornings? What about the stories they tell me—in the schoolyard, in the hallways, behind closed doors? What about my triumphs and my regrets? What about the stories no one tells—the secrets that play out behind closed doors?

I came to this work because I feel so much love it hurts. (I left the previous sentence purposely vague.) But it seems now I am stymied—limited in the work I love (the writing) because of the work I love (the teaching). Because Pueblo is a town full of closed doors.

I would like to teach for a long time. But at some point I will need to not teach, so that I am able to write. It seems like my whole life is tipping toward this, driving me ahead toward an unknown point, at which I am doing this one thing, this only thing. The point at which I am unburdened by the closing of doors.

I can’t get this idea for a novel out of my head. It’s not clearly defined, but what keeps drawing me back to it is the idea that I could, through fiction, create some accountability for all the things that have happened this year. Perhaps I could tell stories that taste the same as the ones I can’t tell right now. Stories that carry the same weight without publicizing the burden. I don’t know.

But even that novel, I can’t write. It seems like I’m carrying too much to plan out a fictionalized account that simulates this pain. I’m overwhelmed sometimes. I’ve slept for 14 of the past 24 hours. But I am sitting, waiting and watching.

It feels a lot like holding my breath. It feels like waiting in the cold for the tow truck to come. It feels like being alone in a room with one skinny window where the light never shines through. All I’ve ever wanted to do is open the doors. One day maybe I will, but I can’t right now.

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On Clarity

I spent this weekend at a training for instructional coaches (read: teachers’ teachers) that covered the art of coaching and how to be an effective coach for teachers. I am not a coach. I had no real reason to attend the training other than feeling like I needed to learn more, and do more to learn, and engage more actively with the opportunities I was being provided.

But somehow the past two days have been much more than that. They’ve been strangely transcendent, opened my eyes to a lot of things, and brought me to a sense of clarity I’ve rarely felt before.

Only a small portion of this experience was tied directly to the workshop. It focused at many times on self-reflection in thoughtful and intentional ways, which I think I needed. But the real catalyst for everything was the roommate I was assigned by Teach for America, which was paying for the cost of my attendance and hotel for the training. She just needed someone to stay with at the hotel and I, always the odd man out, fell straight into that box.

I was nervous about having a roommate because meeting people is awkward and deeply uncomfortable. Sometimes I hit it off immediately with people, but more often than not, I get a lot of dead air and empty space. My roommate immediately suggested we get dinner, and I was thrilled. I got to meet someone new in a nice way, and I didn’t have to spend my night alone!

At dinner we talked — I explained that I’d had some frustrations with my job and in interactions with my coworkers, but that I recognized I was taking a deficit mindset and needed to think about what I could do and acknowledge what is possible. My goal, and the goal I’d set for myself at the training, was to learn to communicate toward positive change in a way that would promote teamwork among colleagues, rather than a sense of opposition. My roommate told me: You see this bright, hopeful future for your kids. Your colleagues may not be there, they may never be there. You have to walk back and take them there with you — the same way as you recognize you have to do for your students.

In a lot of ways, I suppose, everything culminated in this weekend, this dinner, the immediate and clear realization of my own ability. My frustrations had been building for a while, and were beginning to be worked through as I realized I needed to focus on what I can do rather than what I can’t. That came in tandem with the slow realization that if I wanted to make any kind of real difference, I couldn’t do it from an oppositional place. That would just mean that if I ever left, there would be fewer people left to keep doing the work toward that vision. I couldn’t do it alone — and I had to do it with the trust, love, and teamwork of the people I’d felt I was battling all year.

That in concert with my teacher evaluation, which indicated the same things: Molly, you need to learn how to work with people.

At dinner, my roommate said: “You’ve had an excellent career as a solo artist. You just don’t know how to be in a band yet. And that’s okay. You’re learning.”

The thing about coaching, I learned in this workshop, is that it’s in large part about guiding someone toward learning in a way that allows them to reflect on themselves and change their practice based on their new understandings. It’s a lot like therapy (of which I am a huge proponent). Your job isn’t to tell someone else what to do; it’s to work with them as a teammate and an ally to learn where they are able to improve and grow. Now, I’m not a coach, but my job is to partner with teachers — to be their teammate and ally. In trying to fight in the way that I knew for the change I believed in, I was also doing a poor job of being a teammate and ally.

A component of the training was also the idea that coaches self-reflect. It starts with the coach’s learning about their own growth. In one exercise, we were asked to write down and analyze a scenario of a teacher that coaches may have to work with. Since I was not a coach but the kind of teacher that coaches were coming to this training to talk about,  and I’d been thinking a lot about self-reflection and my own ability to change, I wrote my own situation down and considered how a coach might approach me. This was, I think, the big moment where the switch flipped for me.

I need to stop focusing on my colleagues and their interactions with me, I thought, and focus on myself and how I am interacting with them. I do not need to learn these coaching skills so that I can communicate with them right now — I need to learn these things in order to reflect on myself. I have to start with me.

All this time, I’ve been thinking about myself and wishing I had more support, wondering how I can make changes when things seem stagnant, angry that I didn’t feel like I had enough room to move. I never really considered taking a moment to sit still — to observe the world around me — to build relationships and come to love and believe in the people I worked with the way I so naturally was inclined to do with my students.

Students are not always ready to learn or try new things — they carry a lot of baggage — learning and changing is hard and scary — and adults are not much different. I know I have ideas I want to share, but to disregard others’ expertise and ideas because of my passion for my own carries with it a dangerous movement toward disregarding others in general, and treating them unkindly and unfairly.

There is absolutely an urgency to providing the best education possible for our students as soon as possible. But education has to be a long game too. Because if we don’t bring people with us on the journey, then nothing sustainable exists when we leave. So maybe I can’t do it all right now — that’s okay. Better to do it in partnership with the people around me in a way that becomes sustainable than to leave behind a wake if ever I go, a rut of dark water and air that will fill up upon my leaving and end in silence and stillness, as if I were never there.

The Dark & Sticky Web of Living

It is all connected.

At first, you don’t see it, and the hurt seems so senseless. How many times have you broken down behind the wheel of your car, unable to go home? You asked yourself, then, why this was happening. Why do I feel this way?

I go to the gym to try and cause myself pain in a way that means progress — but my mind won’t quiet. I push harder and only barely stave off falling under that thing again, that inky black soup that turns my head into white noise.

It starts here: in the dining room, heaving furniture miraculously up the narrow, tall staircase of the Victorian home. It starts with “I know it will be hard, but I can handle it.” It starts with the first day of training, breaking down in tears in front of everyone.

I was brave.

I came somewhere new, again.

Lately, I can’t stop thinking of my mother’s friend in Arizona, the one who was a space of comfort during my first year in Phoenix, who died a month before she planned to attend my graduation. I don’t know why she won’t leave my mind. Her house was so cool in the mornings, and I remember sitting under the shaking fan on the covered patio, watching the quail and jackrabbit in the backyard.

I can’t stop thinking about work: the girl who follows me around at the end of the school day, the boy who promised to mail me a live squid when he visits China (someday). The teacher who said, “If you need time off, ask for it. You can’t let a job destroy your mental health.”

But I’m okay. It’s not this–this job, you know, it’s not the thing. It’s something else, it’s the weight of something else. It’s not this job.

But it’s all connected.

When I go home, my roommate and I make dinner. We talk and wash the dishes together. We watch television. Sometimes I go to the gym. I go to dance class. I visit the library. I go to sleep at 10:30, unless I have put off something important.

This is not right: the world should not take on this dimension — or rather, this dimensionlessness. This “is this it?”-ness. I know what it means to lose interest in the things you love to do.

I am lucky. I have friends (three, four on a good day). I have people to see and places to talk to. I have students who promise to mail me cephalopods. They talk to me at the school dances and ask if I will eat lunch with them.

But it is 9 p.m. and I am alone in this three-bedroom house. In the gym I could not get my brain to quiet. It tells me stories I know are lies. I am not sure how to silence them.

I stayed at my mother’s friend’s house before college. When I visited the school, I slept on the couch with her two geriatric dogs. I miss her, but I am not sure what I am missing, or why it hurts so much now, almost a year since she has been gone.

Sometimes, my days at school are lonely. Sometimes, it feels like the whole world is against me. There are days when every single person at the school is off, and you can feel it, the cloud humming in the air — and it turns out it is not just my school but others too, and maybe all of this town, this town that is haunted by something with deep, historic roots, something that started in the steel mills and still lives in the downtown buildings.

Living on the empty force of my convictions alone is not always enough. This work wears you down. Some days, it is not enough to bring all the verve and quirkiness and love I can muster. Some days, I cannot muster. It’s not this job, I say to myself. It’s just how much it hurts to feel alone.

My mother’s friend lived in Sun City, Arizona. Now my friends laugh at me when I tell them I stayed there and that I like it. It is a community primarily made up of wealthy retirees. But the air was still cool as the sun was coming up, and it was so quiet and still, and you could just see the jackrabbit perched behind the big rock in the backyard. It was peaceful there.