After the Sky

"When you're way up high and you look below at the world you left and the things you know, little more than a glance is enough to show you just how small you are. When you're way up high and you're on your own in a world like none that you've ever known and the sky is lead and the earth is stone you're free to do whatever pleases you- exploring things you never dared 'cause you don't care when suddenly there's a big, tall, terrible giant at your door... a big tall terrible lady giant sweeping the floor. And she gives you food and she gives you rest and she draws you close to her giant breast and you know things now that you never new before... not til the sky. Only just when you've made a friend and all and you know she's big but you don't feel small someone bigger than her comes along the hall to swallow you for lunch! And your heart is lead and your stomach's stone and you're really scared being all alone... and it's then that you miss all the things you've known and the world you left and the little you own... the fun is done! So you steal what you can and run. And you scramble down and you look below and the world you know begins to grow... the roof, the house, and your mother at the door... the roof, the house and the world you never thought to explore. And you think of all of the things you've seen, and you wish that you could live in between, and you're back again, only different than before.... after the sky..."

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is this even possible?

Possibility, potential, there anything more exciting? Or terrifying? I've been thinking about possibilities and opportunities lately, and how, recently, things just haven't "worked out" as I thought they were going to. Perhaps I focus on the plans that fall through more often than the plans that come to fruition, but it seems to me that in the past few years, most of my plans have gone awry. The best laid plans of mice and men... or so they say.
It's frustrating though. Sometimes events beyond my control come into play, and a lot of times it's just easier to lay down arms and say, "Oh well." I find this happening often when I decide something like "I'm really going to start exercising, every day." I'll make a plan, a schedule, and put myself in the mindset that "this is really going to happen." Then something will happen, like I'll come down with a sickness, or it will snow, or I'll have to alter my ideas in another way to accommodate this new situation. And it's easier to just say, "Meh, there goes that idea." However, part of me thinks that when this happens, it's my resolve being tested. I'm being asked from God or the Universe if I really have the discipline necessary to undertake whatever plan I have concocted. And I just fail this test every time.
But that can't be a way to live. I've gotten so used to things interrupting my "best laid plans," that I'm expecting it now. Motivation is becoming a real problem as a result of this. Normally, I'm one who is so competitive and fierce that if something comes along to throw a wrench in my plans, I'll find another way around it. When I was in college, I decided I wanted to follow a degree program I had found at another university. When it turned out my university didn't offer that particular degree program, I made it myself, followed it, and now hold that degree. I was not able to go on exchange to France during my junior year of college because I was supposed to leave on September 11... and while I am very fortunate that all that day did to me was temporarily delay my exchange trip to France, it was still a plan that failed.  And even after being told that I was not going to be allowed to go at all the following semester, because of "program issues," I fought and went anyway. I used to be good at overcoming obstacles in my path in order to fulfill my plans.
But recently, I have become less and less adept at this. Even something as simple as exercising every day can be ruined by something as trivial as a cold. And now, I am being presented with something that has the potential to be a great opportunity. And I am so tempted to be lured into the idea that this could be a real possibility. Because it would work so well; it would align so well with the "grand plan" I have set forth for myself. And even though I am excited about it, and crossing all my fingers that it could work out for me, I'm hesitant. I'm stuck thinking, "Is this even possible?"

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Only For Now

Change... I can't even think of how many songs, poems, plays, novels, artistic representations of any kind use this as a central theme. It's so prevalent, yet it's so difficult to cope with at the same time. Since the last post (which, admittedly, has been much, much longer than I can even come up with a reason for) many, many changes have occurred. And, with the "change" comes the "coping." Let's see... I'm sure there are a plethora of examples I can come up with for this, but let's go with this one, from Avenue Q. I think it's put quite nicely here:

"Nothing lasts/life goes on/full of surprises/you'll be faced with problems/of all shapes and sizes/you're going to have to make a few compromises/for now.../but only for now..."

Yes, it's prevalent. Yes, it's daily. Yes, it's a pain to deal with. But it's inevitable.  About ten years ago, the mountains to the west of my hometown of Los Alamos, NM were consumed by a forest fire (and so were many, many homes). This past weekend, I was driving with my mom through these burned mountains. We commented on how amazing it is that everything is so green now, life is thriving, and the only real evidence that there was ever a fire was the skeletons of trees sticking out of the green, growing earth. As we continued east towards our house, we had to drive through part of Bandelier National Forest, which had its own fire about twenty-five years ago. There, even the burned trees had fallen and been overgrown. There, there's practically no evidence that just twenty-five years go, the earth was black, charred, and dead. We remarked not only on how miraculous it was that nature finds a way to grow and regenerate in an area that seemed lifeless and hopeless, but that it's really a cleansing process, in the end. The forests get so congested with growth that sometimes the only solution is to "clean house," and begin again.

Perhaps this is what I have experienced in this past year. I've been piling too much on, taking on too many ideas and possibilities, and entertaining too many choices that I lost sight of what I truly wanted to be looking for, and it was time to "clean house," as it were.

The death of my grandmother, the friends going crazy and psychopathic, the injustice of the job, the broken relationship, the violence, and the violation.... these are all ways that I'm being regenerated. Renewed. Cleansed, wiped clean, and prepared for whatever is to be grown next.

"Sunrise, sunset/sunrise, sunset/swiftly fly the years/one season following another/laden with happiness and tears." --Fiddler on the Roof

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Everything is Illuminated

I was told once that we only get so many chances to step over the line until the universe decides that enough is enough. I guess today might have been my last chance. The story of the day is really not important, but it brings to mind the question of: 1. Work ethic, especially in the face of adversity, and 2. Trust.

I pride myself on my work- at least, work I do when I feel like I'm working toward a goal, or have some greater purpose in mind. And one would think that there is no greater purpose than facilitating the goals and aspirations of some great, low-income students. However, I came to a realization yesterday. Either it takes a very special person to truly "fight the system," and only those with that specific constitution can succeed in that area, or it may just be better to "shut up and do what you're told," as I was basically told today. Either way, I'm very discouraged. I've always taught my students that with enough perseverance and hard work, anything is achievable. And in the face of adversity, one must work even harder. But what to do when, in the face of adversity, the motivation disappears? When the goal is fuzzy and unclear, and you're walking blindly towards...what end? And how to you know when you lay down your arms and let it go? And if the continued fight is met not with resistance, but total annihilation?

Which brings me to #2: Trust. Going back to another Broadway tune, "I hope you're proud how you would grovel in submission/ just to feed your own ambition...."

I remember my 11th grade AP History teacher once telling us that the people to fear while you're climbing the ladder are not those above you, nor are they those who are at the bottom, but those who are directly under you. Because they do slimy, creepy things to knock you from your place. Competition is fierce, but what happened to playing nicely? Or, fairly? I'm told time and time again that life is not fair, but I think the main reason I want to be a lawyer is that I really believe that it should be. At least the parts we can control.

So, the final Broadway tune of the day resonates with my idea of what should be done from here:
Running away/let's do it/why sit around resigned?/the trouble is, son,/the farther you run/the more you feel undefined/for what you have left undone/and, more... what you've left behind./

So, regardless of the adversity, the discouragement, the feelings of complete unworthiness, the only thing we can do is decide where to go from here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

I never wanted to do this

So, I'm a teacher. I teach high school French. And because of this experience, I have learned to truly appreciate all that teachers do. But I never, ever in my life wanted to do this. And I honestly don't know why I hate it as much as I do; it seems to have everything one could desire in a job. Decent pay, a lot of moving around, it's never dull, it's always challenging... and yet, I hate it. And it's actually not because of the students. While they definitely present their own challenges, I find, as most teachers do, I assume, that they are the most rewarding part of the whole thing. Even when they're impossible.
I'm wondering if the fact that I really didn't intend to do this for as long as I have plays a part in my dislike of it all. It was intended as a way for me to make money while I was waiting to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, which at that point, was deciding which graduate school to go to. But I got stuck. I took a job with an expectation that I be there "for the long run." And my licensure class was paid for, my training was paid for, trips to conferences were paid for, and I was making more money that I ever had. Plus, I felt I had an obligation to be here, "for the long run."
I realize now that I've never intended to stay. I've been here for four years, teaching for five, and I'm always looking forward to the day when I will be able to say, "this is the last time I have to do this."
I think it requires a leap of faith. Yes, I'm in a job when a lot of people in the country are losing theirs, and for that, I am exceedingly grateful. However, there comes a time when being grateful for something that is financially fulfilling, but fails in achieving personal fulfillment is just not enough. And just because I'm grateful for it does not mean that I can't pursue other options. This is when that idea of "stepping off solid ground into the darkness" comes to mind. It's reassuring to have consistency, but dangerous, too. Consistency can lead to complacency, and complacency is not something that I am ok with.
Remember the film, Mr Holland's Opus? The tagline of which was, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans." May I just say, That's easy for you to say, John Lennon. Because you had one hell of a life. This movie terrifies me. Not the part about making a difference in the lives of others and learning, in the end, that's the real contribution...but the part about getting stuck and never getting out. Thinking that staying "one more year" is the best idea because it makes financial sense, or there are no other options, or, -horror!- a baby is on the way. But I've been thinking "one more year" for FOUR YEARS. It's time to go. It's time to step into the darkness of the unknown and see where I will land.

The Community Table

According to Ted Kaczynski, the downfall of society is due in part to the lack of laundromats. Initially, when I heard this, I thought that no one should be taking any advice from the Unibomber. However, it has stuck with me. And the more I think about it, the more it makes sense. We can get through a whole day, ordering food, buying groceries, doing laundry, without ever talking to another person. We are losing our sense of community because we don't have any communal places anymore.
I imagine that laundromats used to be a place like the beauty shop, where people would talk, gossip, and just be together. It would foster a sense of community. Now, we have an inherent distrust of people, and we don't talk to anyone anymore. We go to "drive thrus" and eat in the car. We have self check out at the supermarket so we don't have to talk to the checker. We have ATMs, online-shopping, texting, automated customer-services answering systems, WebMD, and even automatic ticket-dispensing machines at the movies. We abhor the idea of sitting too close to someone on the bus, on the plane, or in a restaurant. We walk around with earbuds in our ears (or a bluetooth- or both! So we don't have to miss a call while we're listening to our music. But who is calling us?) and ignore all the commotion that is life around us.
At first I thought this was a phenomenon that was localized in the suburbs. The small town I grew up in isn't sophisticated enough to have self-checkout, and everyone still knows everyone else's business. But no! Last time I was home, there was the self checkout in the grocery store. It's all downhill from there.
Which brings me back to France. When I was on exchange in France, I went to a café, ordered a pain au chocolat and a coffee, and sat at a table, ready to read my book and ignore the people around me. Ah, mais ce n'est pas comme ça en France! An elderly woman sat down at MY TABLE and began TALKING TO ME. I nodded politely, but kept by book open, to show her I was already occupied. And yet she kept talking- asking me about what I was reading, where I had come from, what I was planning for the rest of the day. And after a few minutes of politely answering her questions with one-word answers and then going back to my book with an annoyed look on my face, I conceded. I put down my book and I talked to her. Because that's what they do. And that's what we should be doing as well.
Thankfully, I think this is a becoming trendy, at least in part. I recently went to a breakfast place in south Denver, and, as I was one person (armed with a book, of course), they sat me at the "Community Table." I was ready to pull out my book and ignore the other 8 or so people sitting around me, when I thought, "I'm at a COMMUNITY table. Cool." So I closed the book and introduced myself to the people at the table. And we had a conversation while we ate. I met someone who had read the book I brought, and we discussed the author and the other books she had written. I talked to someone who had lived in Paris as an au pair and was going through a similar withdrawal as I, even five years later.
I didn't make any lasting friendships during that breakfast, but I did indulge in good food and good conversation. And it was good. And I felt a part of something that I would have missed had I just set myself in a corned and buried myself in a book. And I sincerely hope that that piece of community that is so important to the French remains important there, through all the technological advances, so when I return, I will be welcomed and engaged in conversation by whomever happens to sit at my table next time.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Subjunctive thoughts

After reading the first post, Eric told me, "I think it seems that you have resigned yourself to never return to France." That's a good point. After deciding that I wanted to live there, I decided to do some research. Google searches of "How to live in France," "How to move to France," and "What jobs are in highest demand in France?" turned up a lot of answers about red tape and citizenship issues, I think I did resign myself to that idea. Basically, it's hard to move to France. Very, very, very hard. Because of the European Union and its immigration/work policies, one has to be more experienced, more educated, and basically just better qualified than everyone else in the European Union. That's intense.
Of course, there are ways- there have to be ways. Americans live there. There must be a way to do it without being super-woman. But.....
So, this is where I am: riddled with self-consciousness about my education, my abilities to speak French, my dedication to my goal. But I have come to an important decision: I will live in France within the next 5 years. That leaves me plenty of time to go to law school, work hard, and find a job in some sort of legal field in France.
Now I just have to have the confidence enough to believe that I can do this.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

So, I've always thought that people who had blogs without doing something "grand," like being on a great vacation, or studying abroad, or being in the Peace Corps were self centered and, well, boring. Maybe that's not something I should put on a site dedicated to the words and musings of everyday people, but there you have it.
So why me? I'm just writing this for myself, as there are so many words and musings out there on the world wide web that my words are a drop in a very large ocean. So what compelled me to add to the water?
The answer to that is... Broadway. And France.
Well, Stephen Sondheim and living abroad, to be more precise.
They still don't seem like they go together very well.
I was listening to Broadway musicals with my sister in the car while I was home for Christmas, and we were singing along to our favorite song from our favorite musical and I just thought, "after the sky." What a good title for a blog. Something that describes the return to "normalcy" after a great adventure, a life-changing experience, or something personality-altering in another way.
I'm sure we've all experienced them; I don't think there would be a popular musical about it if we didn't. But they are so profound and life-changing that they must be documented I suppose.
While I was on exchange in France, I wrote a blog about "les petits triomphes"- that is to say, little things that one might take for granted every day, but that suddenly seem so much...more when done in another language, in another country, in a different culture. And completing even the most menial tasks, like getting a haircut, was suddenly a great adventure, and something to relish in when completed successfully. And upon my return home, everything just... was easy again. No great feats to accomplish, no great obstacles to overcome, no great feeling of satisfaction after getting exactly what you ordered at the bakery.
So, what do we do then?
That's the question I've been asking myself since my return, almost 5 years ago. What now?
It's been 5 years, and I still get teary-eyed and my heart beats faster when I smell something that reminds me of France. I still get shaky when I watch a movie set in France, and I see the places that for me, were the scenes of my greatest adventure. How does one return to that? Is it possible? And, if not, what do we do then? What's next when the great adventure is over at the age of 24?
That's the subject of this blog: what do we do when we're home, when you're back again, only different than before...after the sky?