When I first started teaching high school, I felt like this was a fall from grace for my career ambitions. My ex and I used to call Mr. Holland’s Opus a “horror film” and then there I was, strolling right into that “horror film.” I wanted to be an English professor, damnit. And I probably could have been were I born a different person.
And like so many situations in my life that haven’t been exactly what I wanted/expected, I loved teaching teenagers because I keenly remember being a teenager, and a teenager who knew that 90% of what the adults were serving me was straight-up bullshit. And many of those students, from my years teaching high school, are still an integral part of my life.
Middle school, which I taught for about 4 months straight, was a bit harder for me. I learned a lot while teaching middle school about my limitations as an educator, my strengths, and my weak spots. And many of the kids etched themselves onto my heart. A few, in particular, I will never forget so long as I live.
I gave some of my students, in Tucson, my cell number before I left. One kid actually uses it regularly. I’ll call him Carl, though his real name is way cooler. (Frankly, every name is probably cooler than “Carl” — sorry, Carls.) Anyway, Carl writes rap lyrics. When I taught him ELA he would write nothing, and when I found out he wrote rap lyrics in his spare time, I encouraged the practice and used it to start teaching him little things about language/usage. Carl was only in 6th grade, and sometimes you have to “mix the medicine in” when you’re teaching little kids subjects they have bad feelings around. So when we had free time during the day, I helped Carl mix in the medicine of commas, spelling, and syntax with the poetry he was creating in his journal.
This morning he sent me a text. A picture of his rap. The same song he’s been working on for months now. The paper is crumpled, and the lines are in various colors of ink. I didn’t even wait to drink some coffee before reading and responding. And I think the rap is good, though I have no scholarly background in the matter. I know poetry, and I know my conviction that if America lasts, students will study the work of hiphop artists who, in their lyrics, told the real story of our country. Also, have you ever taken the time to notice the elocution of a talented rapper? How do you rap so fast, and never slur a word? Magic.
I feel lucky to have Carl in my life. I feel lucky to wake up, some mornings, to rap lyrics, in kid scrawl, on my phone. And I’m flattered because it’s not easy, as an adolescent, to share your art with grownups — especially those who are teachers. This is capital-t-Trust, and anytime I’ve earned a person’s trust — whether they are little or big — I take that shit seriously because I know how hard it can be to give Trust. You probably know this, too, reader.
The scariest thing for me, when I moved to Arizona, was that I had to trust my spouse, had to trust my heart, had to trust that the people in this foreign land would be good to me — and mostly, they were. If I’m being 100% honest, reader? If Flagstaff had good healthcare, and affordable housing, I’d be living there right now. Flagstaff was a kind of Valhalla for me, and I miss what it was for me. Tucson was brilliant, and I hope to visit often, but in my mind Tucson was my ex and her family.
Some people have expressed surprise/shock at the speed with which I “bolted.” This bothers me because I doubt myself sometimes, too. However, I don’t have the false expectation that I am promised a “later.” If I want to be happy and content, I must make that happen now. This is not to say my health is poor. On the contrary, the more I rest, the more I establish some semblance of a routine for myself in my new abode, the better I feel each day.
Next week is for “business.” Establishing healthcare. Looking for an income. These things make my stomach hurt. Some people fear pain. Others fear death. I fear red tape . . . and death-by-red-tape. But I do want to go on living, so I must figure this shit out however daunting the task may appear.
Trust. Throughout my life, I’ve tried to prove myself a trustworthy person to others. I’ve struggled to meet the expectations I’ve set for myself. I’ve taken on, at times, far too much for one human being. And for my students, I’ve given 100% of myself, of my compassion, my love, my trustworthiness.
Now I have to trust 100% that others will assist me as I rebuild my life. Circumstance has stripped me down, and I have no other choice than to allow myself to trust others, trust God. (And I still don’t mean sky-beard-man-cloud-God — I simply have not had time to invent a new word.) I can’t carry it all anymore. I have had to humble myself tremendously since the divorce was initiated, and it has fucking sucked. I’m not going to lie. And also I have learned some tremendous lessons, and I feel in some ways this pain has tipped me toward a deeper understanding of myself, or it’s tipped me into madness . . .
Either way, I think I’m doing fairly well all things considered. Was skidding there for a minute, but I know how to fall without killing myself now. When I was in Flagstaff, I taught one section of middle school Creative Writing. This was a fun class because it was an elective. One day we had a party (probably for Winter Break or some such), and a kid started flipping out because he’d brought a liter of root beer, and “lost” it but was convinced someone had “stolen” it, and he carried on and on until I sat down next to him and said, “Sweetie, you need to get an entire grip on yourself.” And within minutes, he was laughing and smiling and asking me to take a selfie with him. Like some Jedi-mind-trick shit. And I use this on myself. I say, “You need to get an entire grip on yourself.” And generally speaking, it works.
I get an entire grip on myself, and I try to go forward in compassion, and trust. There is no other choice. Well, there is, but it is a very unappetizing choice to me.
Now I’m off. One of my bffs is coming for coffee this afternoon. Later, a hang with a cousin. Right now, I have everything I need for a Saturday, and more.
Be good, hooligans.