When I was twelve years old, I watched Robin Williams wake up the questions that lead students to become owners of their own choices as Professor Keating in Dead Poets Society. I knew then that I was a teacher.
I'd been writing stories and making art since I was old enough to do either, so those just felt like parts of me: My eyes are blue, I have a slight bump at the bridge of my nose, I write stories, make art, and love cheesecake - personality traits. They were not something I suddenly discovered, but something that naturally grew from how I existed.
Teaching felt like a calling.
I started keeping notes in class - not just information for the test, but how my teachers delivered that information. What teaching techniques worked best? When did the whole class pay attention? When did they fall asleep? I did this all through high school. I started teaching preschool over the summer when I was 17, began working with children with autism when I was in college, led art workshops and youth groups and anything else I could that gave me a chance to build and deliver curriculum, to wake up the questions, to help people see how to own their own choices. Eventually I got certified, and began teaching in traditional classrooms and college classrooms.
Robin Williams died last year, the month my very last school year started. I let my teaching certificates - all four of them - expire in June. I was 38 years old. While I always wrote and painted, because my eyes are still blue and I still like cheesecake, teaching was the only outwardly-focused component to my career. I spent 26 years cultivating myself as an educator. The public school system, even the public university system, doesn't want us to wake up questions anymore. They don't want educators. They want trainers.
I still teach, and I still love it, but it is now in the corners of my life: a 6-week module with once-a-week meetings, a few evenings of private lessons, a writing conference. I have found a great fit for myself at HD Counseling because people come there with questions already on their minds.
I love the same three things I've always loved: writing, painting, teaching. But now I do them in different proportions. And I have felt a little empty. A little numb.
I've finally admitted to myself that I am grieving. You don't spend a quarter of a century pouring yourself into something and walk away from it unaffected.
I've done this before. From 1999-2005, I had a mural business (in addition to teaching). I was in an accident, and in 2005 I closed my business because I couldn't carry ladders or paint for 8 hour days anymore. I learned to draw with my left hand, and am now ambidextrous in art making so I can give myself some relief. I can paint every day again, but not for 8 hours like I once did. There is a peace in this, but I spent two years grieving before I found this peace. After loosing that business, I turned inward and wrote. From 2005-2007, I wrote the novel that would eventually make me decide to go to grad school to become a better writer.
Thursday, we went to Universal Studios to celebrate my husband's birthday, and we walked around Diagon Alley and Hogsmead. And I thought, what must it be like for J.K. Rowling to walk around there, physically moving through a world that didn't exist until she wrote it into being, now a place she can touch and smell? Yesterday my daughter and I joined some friends and watched the last Mockingjay movie. It's good, but, unlike the other films, not as good as the book. So tonight I reread most of the third book.
Something is waking up in me. I've been writing all this time, and painting all this time. Not all of me left the classroom because I lost the fight. Part of me left teaching to be able to focus more on painting and writing. And with these two visits to worlds that authors created, I am remembering what has always been there when the rest of my world falls apart: the writing. I've been going through the motions, like you do when you're numb, but today, I've been feeling like it's me here instead of my ghost.
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