Monday, June 30, 2014

Sea Change

It's summer and almost July. The school year stumbled to a close and during those last few weeks I discovered that my mother's cancer was successfully arrested, but her heart now requires a pacemaker. I hesitantly registered for a writing workshop in Rhinebeck, New York that will be taught by the great Lynda Barry. This will require me to fly (I'm a white-knuckle flyer of Olympic proportions), change planes, rent a car and drive alone in an unfamiliar part of the state. I'm thrilled and terrified and hoping against hope that it takes my professional life in a daring and unexpected direction.

Because even though 100% of my students--both Honors and not--passed the stupid, stupid test that is so important to the state? Not one word of congratulation or thanks from my principal. For similar reasons as well as others I can't name, both of the 7th grade English teachers quit and, for the time being, neither of them plan a return to teaching.  On that last day I stripped my classroom, boxed up its  contents, and moved it two floors up with no help from the custodians.

My colleagues who at the beginning of the year were so anxious to gather for lunch or a quick trip to Sonic to compare notes or chat were beyond end-of-the-year niceties. Some were bitter and others simply exhausted. All of us stressed and--if casual claims are to be believed--heavier than we were the previous August. I blame stress, aggressively indiscriminate eating and maybe the too-predictable nightly unwinding with a glass (or three) of wine. All of that is going to change. Has already changed.

Then my brother-in-law, the husband of my youngest sister, died unexpectedly and I spent the first day of summer driving six hours away to bury him, returning with full expectations of helping that sister do whatever needed doing. Instead, I have not seen her since. I am still unsure as to why.  I spent one week returning much (but not all) of the homely mess of my house to public cleanliness, though I wouldn't open any closets if I were you. I cooked and baked and the house filled with smells that people actually live here.

I drove to visit my youngest at college where he is working and taking summer classes. I got to find out what is new in his life and filled his pantry and refrigerator with food, which made me extremely happy. I spent the rest of the week in seminars geared for those who teach Honors-level high school  students and because they were NOT created and presented by administrators from my district, I actually learned something.  I started taking barre classes which kick my ass but offer the promise of returning my body to a reasonable facsimile of its former shape.

I'm reading all the time. Susan Cheever's new biography of e.e. cummings is on my bedside table and when I walk or run I'm listening to Elizabeth Gilbert's "The Signature of All Things". Which brings me to today when --in the midst of lunch (a salad--which I was able to actually chew, because I had more than 30 minutes in which to eat it) I received a text from an old friend who said that he and I could no longer actually be friends who communicate because his wife can't handle him knowing or communicating with a female he has known since he was a kid. So despite the fact that he lives many, many states away from here now and our very infrequent texts consisted mostly of talking about our elderly parents' health issues, she feels threatened.

And this? This was the proverbial straw. Amidst the disappointments of the school year, the increasingly precarious health of my parents (and that of their friends and associates which always, always, ALWAYS requires what I've come to know as the "Roll Call of Death" every time I phone or visit) and the loss of a sweet and gentle brother-in-law whose mental illness compromised his personal happiness as well as his ability to be a full participant in his extended family, the loss of an old friend  whom I have seen only once (His brother's funeral) in the last 29 years pushed me right over the edge.

I'm still sitting here. I had my laptop open to this blog which I recently revamped a bit in hopes of coaxing new words from my rusty brain. Because I had just been telling my other sister (Was it yesterday?) about the casual nature of this old friendship and how fortunate I felt to have met and loved someone as a teenager and then--years later after college/jobs/happy marriages/children to STILL know him as a friend, albeit from afar. To text a photo of a new cat or recommend a book on the Civil War because he's a huge nut for the conflict he refers to as The War of Northern Aggression. 

Anyway...I'm still sitting in this chair with my hands on the keyboard. My salad finished and the dishes placed in the dishwasher rack and I've got my iPod set on shuffle. Things are the same...but...they aren't really. I'm down three pounds...but I'm also down a friend. Because of this and everything else, I am changed. Changed...and disappointed.

So how's your summer?


  1. I had a friend like that, that I also lost for similar reasons.

    Our summer is good. The winter was so rough, I'm still recovering. But summer, with no snow, is going much better so far.

  2. Oh, ow. That hurts. I'm sorry.

    On the other hand, Rhinebeck sounds great - good for you for taking that leap! You'll love New York State in the summer.

  3. Awful. Just dreadful. I'm sorry you lost a good friend.
    But good for you to head to that workshop! There's nothing bad about heading north in the summertime.
    Be good to yourself now.

  4. I'm sorry about all of it. I identify with much of it. I can't seem to make myself write…all the funny up and left. Poor and sad aren't entertaining; even I wouldn't want to read what I write. I like to think it will all come back before too long. In a few weeks, the now-annual retreat with a group of old friends from my youth will commence--I cannot wait. It's the highlight of every year.

    And by the way--this stuff with our parents? I just want to wave the white flag some days...

  5. It sounds like a year from hell, in so many ways. The longer I teach in a German school, the more reluctant I become to return to teaching in the US. Yes, there are tests (not many) and pressure (not nearly as much) but the German system is so much more humane I can't even begin to describe it. Suffice it to say we are all treated like educated professionals. That should do it. I hope that your trip to Rhinebeck stirs the deeps and revitalizes your career in a direction that will bring you both professional satisfaction and peace. It is a shame beyond words that someone of your calibre will most likely end up leaving the classroom due to the prevailing idiocy.

  6. I'm so sorry your friend felt the need to end your relationship like that. I'm not a teacher, but I can certainly relate to work stress that takes over your life. At my job, we're treated like robots who are expected to work ceaselessly. The disrespect is intolerable and I'm investigating if there is a way we can just chuck it all and live off the land or something.

  7. Somehow, public education just keeps pushing teachers out. Just make sure none of your kids wants to become a teacher. Teaching college (at a two-year, community, college) is much better --as MsCaroline said above about teaching in Germany, at least we are (mostly) treated as educated professionals. I hope you find some refreshment in your summer, and maybe a new career?

  8. No one should feel like this, yet I know so many teachers who do, who have, and who will continue to. Misery does NOT love company in this case. Enjoy the healing, and I hope mightily that something more satisfying presents itself. When it does, hang on with both hands and don't forget to be brave.

  9. What was it with this year? I have yet to talk to a teacher who didn't have a hard year. I am so glad it's over and I'm actually excited to begin again with a new group. I still feel like I have to do a ritual in my classroom to purge it of the "ick." I'm just worried about the smoke alarms going off.


Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.