effort

I’m trying. I really am trying. Some days I just don’t have the internal strength to make it okay for myself.

Don’t ever feel like you have to do that.

And I felt like I was 12 again. When advice like that was all I needed to feel better.

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read. read. read.

She said:

Is that all you English teachers do is read?

He said:

You NEED to read this book.

I read for the exact reason that he said I needed to. It’s a soul connection.

I answered:

Maybe. I’m sure most teachers do. I just choose a little differently.

I read:

He was right.

on teaching.

When I was filling out grad school applications, I had to think about my teaching philosophy. I think it all boils down to:

Part One: It’s not about you.

Part Two: 90% of your job is teaching your students how to get out of their own way. The remaining 10% is giving them the tools to do that.

Random Thoughts Because I Should Have Been Asleep 1 Hour & 51 Minutes Ago

I genuinely dislike the Los Lobos’ “Colossal Head” album.

Even worse, it bugs the daylights out of me that I hate it so much.

Today, this random guy told me that he went 9 months without cooking at home. The universe had to know that I would take that as a personal challenge. I’m on week 3.

Every now and again, I’ll meet someone and be blown away by the energy their soul. Today was the first time I really realized that I have the capacity to do that to other people.

That whole switch-blade saga from when I turned 18 suddenly made a whole lot of sense when I remembered something today.

I’m going to cheer for Manny this season. Purely for mockery and ridicule purposes.

I just calculated that if you meet me in a bar, you have a 1 in 920,000 of getting my phone number.

I think my cat can see ghosts.

Three nights ago I told myself that I should go to bed at 10. I didn’t fall asleep until 12:15. The next night, I decided 9 and failed again. So I decided to stop with the foolish bedtimes that are only going to be decimated by Jamaica Kincaid or manuals on writing.

on writing

By force or just by discussion, I have given this a lot of though this week.

The “this” is writing. Specifically, I have been thinking about the whys of writing. Why is that I feel compelled to sit here and write out my thoughts? Why is it that I carry around a journal? Why is it that I teach my classes they way I do? Why do I feel so tortured by the prescribed reading material?

In three different conversations, people described their disdain toward writing. And I wondered about that. Partly because I had just sat down two weeks ago and written five admissions essays. It wasn’t fun. Not at all, but it also wasn’t torture. I think about how much my students despise writing. I think about how some of my coworkers–in the English department–proudly profess that they are not writers.

I suppose the technical part of it is very daunting. There are millions of rules for millions of situations. I’m sure I make tons of mistakes in my writing. But I also think I had wonderful training in writing. Grammar doesn’t stress me out. It just is. I suppose if you take that part out of the equation, it’s downright painful. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be my student and receive a paper back riddled with pen marks, documenting each and every grammatical mistake.

When I was hired to teach writing, I said simply that I take it seriously. When I was asked why, I said, “Writing saved my life.”

A couple of days ago, I said that I love to write because it’s the only way I can “transfer dreams or imaginings into a perceived reality.” It’s so simple for me. Black words on white paper. You can read into it what you will. You can imagine from it what you will. I don’t have to color it. I don’t have to illustrate it. There needs to be no visual interpretation of my images at all.

That is an incredibly powerful thing.

And today, when I became engaged in a curriculum discussion, I said that I could very well be wrong. I’m not a literature person. By that, I mean, I don’t have sick desire to embrace every piece of classic literature.

But, I went on to say, the big difference is that while other teachers see the writing as the assessment, I see it as the IT. That’s what it’s all about.

In my frustration, a couple of weeks ago, I stripped the entire front of the classroom of all the cute motivational posters about being nice to each other and being a good person. I printed on plain paper the words FIRST FIND YOUR SOUL. THEN FIND YOUR VOICE.

I’ve written about my decision to teach “Zoot Suit” over “The Great Gatsby.” I did that for two reasons. One, it is genuinely more interesting to my students and they’ve devoured it in half the time they would have read Gatsby in. But, the more important reason for me is that it symbolizes so well the power of the written word. It tells so well the idea that words create injustice just as easily as they create justice. And it tells of the importance of telling stories. Telling stories to bring light to injustices. I think when young people learn about the world–as they are every day with me–it seems overwhelming. There are no answers. There are no easy solutions. But there are thoughts and arguments. There is enlightenment. It all comes through writing.

Writing is a voice that has allowed me to be heard my entire life.

I say to my friend all the time: that is going to be my gift to the Junior class of this school. I want them to understand their words are the truest expression of who they are intellectually, emotionally, academically, and spiritually.

And slowly….slowly….they have picked up on the format. Even more importantly, I smile every time I read a student’s analysis of a character’s soul.

When I sat down this evening to grade essays, I thought to myself, “Who thought it would be a good idea to teach English?”

It’s even more painful than the writing process itself. It’s a slow bleed to death. It’s watching the words I love so very much be mangled each and every day. But there are small glimmers of hope. I see where my students have grown. I see their weaknesses. And even their  in 80 millionth character analyses, I can see their very souls. I see what they value. I see their experiences. I see their faith. I see their hopes.

But most of all I see in them what I share in my writing–their soul.

dys-function

Why did I get into a texting conversation about dysfunction?

Perhaps because I am the poster child. Self-proclaimed. And labeled.

When I was driving to work this morning, I thought to myself, “I need to work in a place with rules.” And then I started to laugh at myself. Why? So I can have more to break?

I consider myself to be a highly functional human being. I’m educated. I feed myself. I pay my bills on time. I vote. I go to work.

But within all of those functions lies a deep-seated DYSfunction. It’s a mockery of everything function is supposed to be. Almost to the point that when I do function normally it’s purely out of spite. It’s an exaggerated form of function which is meant purely to mock. To mock and entertain.

And I get away with it. Again and again.

And then I laugh.

It starts with my sleep, which is probably the most basic of human functions. You need it. It’s easy to do. Done, right?

Nope.

Not in my world. I sleep in cycles–as we all do. But I sleep in week-long, 2-week cycles. Two weeks of four hours a night of sleep. Then, a week of that normal, 8-hour a night of sleep. When I’m sufficiently rested the game begins again.

Functioning well within the confines of function.

I laugh at people who say I push my students too hard because the degree to which I push them is merely a fraction of the way I push myself. I don’t like to stop until it’s absolutely necessary. It’s how I get things done. How I still manage to read and watch TV and teach the way I do. How I manage to read four drafts of 87 essays in a 2-week period. How I have the time to re-read the works of literature I assign 3 times before I assign them. And still have the time to read for “fun.” How I keep the chipper attitude, sarcasm, and thoughtfulness all at the forefront of my persona. The way I can personally greet 137 students every single day and know something personal about each and every one of them.

It’s a bizarre sort of functioning. It’s silly and exhausting. It’s a testament to some sort of inner drive and will that I don’t quite understand at all time. I simply let it flow through me.

And I laugh. At the label of dysfunction. Not because I’m mocking it–although I am–but because to function is so basically human that to do it within parameters that would crush your soul doesn’t make any sense to me.