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..."

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.