Three sections of ninth-grade computer apps. One section of yearbook. One section of video editing. This is what my line looks like in this, my thirtieth semester as a teacher.
If you’d asked me a month and a half ago how I was feeling about my choice of profession (Ha! As if it were a choice!) I’d have given you mixed-but-mostly-confused sentiments. You might have heard words like “bored” or “unsure” or “restless,” none of which would have had anything to do with my actual class time, but just the overall experience. It’s so easy to second-guess oneself in a job like this. What good am I doing? And who really cares whether I do it or not?
I’m not foolish. I know that no matter how well I do this job, I am replaceable. If I were not doing all those things we tell ourselves teachers do in the lives of young people, somebody else would. Somebody else would be in my classroom teaching wonderful things to my students and inspiring my future leaders and followers.
So none of this is really about that. It’s really about what the heck am I doing here?
I honestly don’t know how non-religious people get through life without just giving up. Without some belief in some greater purpose, all you have are the days you have, the people you know, the space you occupy. And when you die you go into the ground and what did you really accomplish? Even if you’re, say, Abraham Lincoln or J.S. Bach, you’ve only made some kind of difference for the people on the planet, but what does that mean? How valuable or meaningful is that, if it all comes crashing to a burning end thousands of years from now?
I realize this is my midlife crisis talking. I suppose I (and readers of this space) will have to get used to it, because I don’t expect really to be out of crisis for some time. Reminders every day on FB or in the Christmas photos I get in the mail point me in a million directions my life might have taken, none of which it did. My life went this way. And why?
This is why people have kids, you know. Kids are the sort of ultimate graffiti tag. I might be dead and gone in a few years, but check out what I left behind, you know? Even if you give it the most positive spin possible, the whole expression of love between two people thing, you’re really still talking about leaving something behind. A mark. Children are like the dog piss on the fire hydrant, except hopefully they grow up and have kids of their own who also leave something behind, so that while your spray painted tag might fade over time, remnants of it will remain for as long as there are kids.
That fire-hydrant thing isn’t even my own metaphor; someone once wrote a poem inspired by me when I left five bottles of beer on her kitchen counter in Tennessee after a short summer visit. The first line of the poem was something like, “A possession has taken place.” It’s a great poem. She published it. Even my expounding on my midlife crisis, you see, is dependent on imagery created by others.
But hey. It’s a new year, on the calendar and in my own chronology. It’s a sunrise. A white canvas. A blank page. A new fire hydrant. Or something. I feel an unintended optimism creeping in, as it always does at this time of year. I love my classes. I love my students. And now let the wild rumpus start, and all that.
There’s really one other huge reason for kids, and people don’t really talk about it much. Kids become the way you keep your focus off yourself. People act as if being a parent is the super-unselfish act of taking care of someone else, of putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own. That’s true, but it’s not for the kids’ benefit that you do it. You do it because, as I have had occasion to tell a few students who’ve crossed my path, the surest way to be depressed about your life is to spend all your time thinking about it. If you spend that time instead focused on other people’s needs, your life is not so bad. Maybe that’s why I feel okay most days about being single. My job is a sort of built-in escape valve for my own self-centeredness. I can’t do my job well if I am focused on myself, and doing my job well (if for no other reason than pride) is important to me.
One of my gifts this Christmas was a pound of coffee from one of my favorite coffee joints. It inspired me to make more coffee at home and to indulge less in coffee at the cafes. I’ve gotten away from making coffee at home for stupid reasons. I have a standard-sized automatic-drip machine, plus an espresso machine, and I never use either of them, haven’t used them for years. I don’t know why this helped, but when the new year broke, I picked up a cheap five-cup automatic-drip machine, a small little thing by one of those appliance makers that also makes power tools and whose coffee cred is therefore suspect.
It’s doing the trick, though. I get up, I grind the beans, I start the machine, and I have a cup while I do my morning Internet reading. What’s left in the carafe is enough to fill my Thermos, which I take to work with me. While the coffee’s brewing, I also prepare my lunch for the day and get dressed. So far, so good. I’m trying to make a few other changes to my daily ritual, not to mention my daily mindset. The writing (after only eight days) continues in just about the spirit I intended, ‘though I feel I’m having to steal time for it away from things that shouldn’t be messed with, like sleep! Ugh.
I may get more detailed about that, but I may have to keep that stuff to myself.