Category Archives: midlife crisis

News of my death…

has been greatly exaggerated. I’m feelin’ you, Mark Twain. All my posts lately are about how busy I am, and how that’s what’s keeping me from doing any real writing for you… but there will still be plenty of writing next year, and much of it related to education, too. More on that late-June-ish. And if what brings you here is not the education stuff at all, there’ll be who-knows-what dropped at a dark barker. If all goes exceptionally well, there’ll even be pieces published on real, tree-killing, high-gloss paper.

But yes, it is goodbye to teaching. Or at least, goodbye for now. TMAO says it’s a false promise to leave indicating one’s possible return when that might just be a rationalization or a fantasy or something. But teaching science has been good to me. It’s been full of challenges, adventures – dead lobsters, dead crickets, LEGO robots, homemade musical instruments, and more, and let me meet a few hundred interesting people who are fast on their way to becoming adults.

I ran into one of those young people on the bus the other day. He was in our school, perhaps illegally, in the very first year. Illegally because he was supposed to get services that we couldn’t provide. He was kind-hearted, didn’t read or write all that well, loved science but could be infuriatingly lazy, drove us up the wall, and thrived at the same time. He’s a junior in high school right now, teaching chess to little kids at a camp this summer – he always was a super-star chess player – and was talking about taking the SATs and the Chem Regents and starting college visits pretty soon. He wants to be a chemical engineer. How do I capture what it feels like to sit on a bus next to this young man, talking about his future, thinking back on the three years that I taught him, knowing the long odds for a kid from the South Bronx, a Dominican male with special needs, becoming an engineer, and yet knowing that he is already far along that path and can now see it unfolding in front of him. This kid is going to make it, and I played some role in that, and what’s simultaneously remarkable and reassuring about it all is that among the students who have graduated from my school, he is not an exception (I don’t have any data to back this up, just a few anecdotes and a sense). (The fact that he wants to go into a science-related field is just icing).

But it’s been a hard year, and the eighth hard year in a row, and at a certain point this winter, every cell in my body was telling me it was time for a change, physically, mentally. Time to make space in my life for healthier relationships, for the trazillions of interests that I have besides education, for pursuing writing in a serious way, for slowing down and redirecting my energy, at least for a while. I’m turning 30 next week: I guess that’s part of it. And then I saw an opportunity, and soon there was a job offer, and then I accepted, and then I told my boss, and then I wrote a resignation letter, and here we are. My new team met yesterday for a few hours, and reality got a bit realer, some initial planning was sketched out… well, I really can’t share more than that but be patient!

Still, I wish I could annotate this post in multi-colored post-its and add all the things that I’m leaving out (for now)… thoughts about why teachers stay and why they go, about my own personal reactions to stress and whether the problem is me or the job or the particular version of the job that happens in certain kinds of classrooms and schools in the city, about where I hope life might go next and the ten-thousand things that might come as next steps. I’m leaving, but I’m not going anywhere.

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Filed under blogging, confession, education, midlife crisis, New York, science, special education, teaching

With so much change approaching,

I find myself taking so many leaps of faith, small ones, perhaps, but still requiring trust.  Most require trust in myself, that I can do this new job, that I will find it fulfilling, that I can do the kind of writing that editors want to pay for.  Some require trust in the universe, the system, or in others, that the job will launch successfully and people will read what we write, that someone will trust me with a reporting piece so that I can begin to prove myself with clips, that my new apartment is what the current occupants said it is, that I can manage a few tricky months of moving out, keeping some stuff in storage, moving into a new place, and then, eventually, moving all my stuff into the new place and finding a more permanent roommate.  And then there’s trust in other individuals.  It turns out that several of my closest friends are moving away from New York this summer, some in only a few weeks (for most, grad school beckons).  I could despair at the big hole this might leave in my life here, but I can’t despair: what a waste of energy.  I can only enjoy the time I have to spend with them while they’re still here, do my best to stay in touch when they’re away, make certain they know that they always have a couch to crash on when they visit, and trust that new friends will fill that hole, perhaps not in the same way, but that people come and go, and yet I am never alone here.  That is, I think, the hardest leap of faith of all.

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Filed under confession, friends, midlife crisis, New York

File under “miscellaneous”

sun-white
I get this email in my flickr inbox, asking if my photos can be used by a group fighting Ontario’s ban on clotheslines. Those who like the smell of clothing whipped dry by the breezes and who appreciate the energy savings therein are fighting the ban. I happen to think clotheslines are beautiful.

*****

It’s funny how just when you get all excited about how planned and joyful your life is going to be, how when you decide to more consciously choose how to spend your days, someone – while generally encouraging the idea – gently questions whether this is not, in fact, yet another facet of perfectionism.  Which makes you, possibly, just a little defensive, because you know that you can’t choose how you spend every moment, that you will, inevitably, spend time spacing out, that mornings will pass with nothing done but the coffee made and the email read, because … oh crap.  Because you are so perfectionistic that it is not enough to practice intentionality, you must also balance that with perfect acceptance of your own fallability.  It’s a hall of mirrors, folks, it really is!

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Intentionality

It’s such a hippie word, but a good one: to live consciously.  I always return from California with a renewed commitment to this idea, because many of the people I know there make daily choices that prioritize the many things that can make them happier, not just busier.  Krista explores similar issues while quoting an article on pervasive “busy-ness”:

 Recognize that a frenetic life is a life half lived. You should aim for “Flow,” a concept from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a professor of psychology and education at the University of Chicago and author of the book “Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning.” Flow is a unique state of mind where productivity and creativity are at their highest. Csikszentmihalyi says that Flow generates the grand ideas, phenomenal work, and intense, rewarding experiences that people identify with happiness.

Flow occurs when you are fully present and engaged in what you are doing; the concept of time melts away in a commitment to the goal-oriented activity. This feeling requires being occupied and engaged for uninterrupted chunks of your day without ever thinking that you’re rushed for time. People who are busy do not get this feeling.

-Penelope Trunk, Seattle Post-Intelligencer

I am pretty good at getting into “flow” when I need or want to; but at a certain level of commitments to others, to projects half-chosen, half-accepted, all ability to get into this intensely productive, calm, focused state dissipates.  For two or three weeks this January, I couldn’t get there.  Everything felt jumpy, nothing got done.  Slowly, I’m re-emerging; the things that needed to be done seem more manageable though they have not fundamentally changed, my sense of mastery and choice has returned.

Still, reflecting on life while in California and on the flight home and in the days since, I’ve thought quite a bit about what I need in my life (it’s not earth-shattering):

  • Work that feels meaningful, where I interact with other people, with a high degree of independence and self-management.
  • Opportunities to be creative outside of work.  Right now this is generally writing, taking pictures, and baking.
  • Good healthy food, mostly made at home.
  • Exercise and time outdoors; sunlight.
  • An attractive place to live where I feel at home, kept more-or-less clean.
  • Strong relationships with others and a sense of community.
  • A sense of exploration; exposure to new ideas; interesting reading material; new places and things to see.
  • Enough sleep.

What don’t I need?

  • Partying, late nights just for the sake of it, an inconstant schedule.
  • A huge circle of friends.  A few good ones, with whom I spend meaningful time, will suffice.
  • Thrills.  Newness and exploration does not equal thrill-seeking.
  • More hats.  To this end, I said no to teaching Saturday Academy.

I looked at my week and thought about the important things.  Can I make myself menus every Sunday and cook good, fresh meals three or four times per week, and eat mostly leftovers the rest of the week?  By planning in this way, can I save on impromptu grocery trips or ordering in or eating out?  Can I invite people over to cook with me and watch a movie on Sunday nights, thus increasing my sense of community while ensuring that I eat well?  Which days will I exercise?  Which days will I work, and for how long (not indefinitely)?  Which days will I clean?  Which days will I leave some time for spontaneity, for meeting up with someone on a weekday evening, for just chilling?  It sounds regimented, but I believe that I have time for all the things that matter, and by looking at what I do and comparing it to what I could do, I hope to move closer to having full days, rather than busy ones.

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Hard places for my head to inhabit…

When you feel at sea, getting stuff done can be an anchor.  Far worse for me is being stuck in unproductive mode, all the time.  I get the little things done.  The big things are sitting out there, and I know they’re there, and they aren’t going away.  And I have good work habits, much of the time – not amazing, but pretty good.  It’s just when a day or two of dithering becomes a week, becomes ten days, and every time I sit down to really hammer away at it the hours fritter off into nothing… I can’t explain it, but it’s way worse than simple moodiness, which holds, at least, the possibility of working through it.

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Filed under confession, midlife crisis, teaching

I looked up from redirecting a student

and there in my classroom doorway stood one of my former students, a girl whose older brother regularly hung out on the stairs of our school with a five inch knife in his belt, a girl who wanted – and still wants – to become a neurosurgeon, a girl who – I’ll confess it – has always been one of my favorite students, one of the ones I worried about, will she have the strength it will take to bring her dreams within reach? So there she was in skinny jeans and a long slouchy sweater, looking just like herself, only older, and I gave her a hug and asked how she was doing. Good, she said. She’s in tenth grade now, taking chemistry, at a private school upstate. Do you feel prepared, I asked? Yes, I have a 97 average! I gave her five. But I miss you so much, Ms. Frizzle. A few minutes later, I asked if she’d say something to my sixth graders. I introduced her, and she told them a little about herself and then I asked if she had any advice for them. I was always talking a lot in school, she said, but I got good grades. So, just make sure if you’re going to do something like that, you have the grades to back it up. And pay attention to science, because you will need it.

Then I had to go back to teaching, and she left. In my head, the tension between sustainability and meaning buzzed a little louder.

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So many possible titles,

ranging from “oh my my” to “am I qualified for this?” to “good idea?/bad idea?” to “making change from the inside?”

Without committing to any of the above, I give you another job lead.

(Confirming my membership in the easily-amused-club, I am inexplicably tickled by the fact that all these jobs are coded “TWEE”).

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Filed under education, midlife crisis, New York, politics, teaching