Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Control: How one tries to "let go" instead of "losing it"

So now that I’ve gotten all of that political stuff off my chest...
Let's chat, shall we?
Just recently I watched a movie called Control. It's about Ian Curtis, the lead singer of the brilliant band "Joy Division," and it got me thinking about the idea of control:  
What we do or do not have control over in our lives.  Whether or not we feel we’re being controlled by someone else.  Our wacky friends or family members whom we describe as being “out of control” (come on...you know exactly the type of person of whom I speak!). 
Or, worst of all, the feeling of losing control--over everything--like in that dream when we’re being chased by a bad guy, and, as hard as we try to move our legs to run, we stand still as though pressed against an invisible wall. 
It’s a horribly fatalist viewpoint to say that we have no control over our own lives.  But sometimes, that’s how it feels. 
Clearly, I had zero control over the fact that my lousy school district riffed me despite my having helped raise my students’ ISAT scores by nearly fourteen percent--in one year.  I had no control over the fact that twenty four more teachers from that same district--some of whom are my dear friends--also got riffed this year.  I also had no control over the fact that the grossly inept superintendent of that lousy school district received a $41,000 salary increase this year, an amount of money, which, incidentally, is more than a first-year teacher in that district earns in an entire year.  
But I digress.  
While I’ve been on this “sabbatical” from teaching (gotta love euphemisms, huh!), I’ve tried on a daily basis to be proactive in fighting off those fatalist beliefs, doing whatever I can to take back control of my life.  
So what have I done with myself all these months--aside from applying for every job in the state of Illinois?  
I started a blog, mostly to vent about the teaching profession (not that I’m bitter, or anything).  
With that blog, I was lucky enough to gain a very small, but very loyal, following--even people I had never met in person (official praise for Suz and Jenny!).  
As the blog progressed, it somehow morphed into the makings of a book about the crazy family I worked for as an au pair in France some years ago.  And it’s that book that has been the antidote to my fatalist fears.
But right now I’m in the process of revising that “book,” and I can’t tell you how mind numbingly painful it is to re-read one’s own writing when the writing is god-awful poor. Honestly, I haven't felt this insecure since grad school.
Am I fishing for compliments, as Adam might teasingly suggest?  Absolutely not.  When I’ve written something decent, I can feel it, taste it. Heck, I can smell it in the air.  
Rather, what I’m dealing with now is simple stagnation--the lack of progress that comes with dreading the revision of that next deplorable chapter.  
So on the days when I simply can’t stand to edit even one more “He said,” or “She glanced with narrowed eyes,” I go for a run and contemplate the positives of my life, insisting that I at least try to see the benefits of not being in the classroom this year.
This is what I came up with:
1).  I’m able to spend more time planning healthy, delicious meals for Adam and me.  The other night, Adam grilled turkey burgers.  We added some roasted red peppers and...the rest is history.  This is a photo of my “perfect bun-less burger”--ten points to the first person who can actually spot the burger!
2). I get to hang out with friends like Val and Nicole, who call me and get me out of the house because for some reason, they still think I’m fun to hang with.
3). I have more time to exercise.  Pathetic as it sounds, I actually bought a machine called the “Leg Magic” from an infomercial that played on television every day when I was in graduate school. (Yes, I watched television even though I should have been working on my thesis!) Only recently did I start to use it seriously and I’ve already lost an inch around my waste...yay!
4). Best of all, being away from the classroom has allowed me to remember the good things about teaching.  I remember a student from last year; I’ll call him “Isaiah.” We were beginning a poetry portfolio project toward the end of the year, and Isaiah--a student who was beyond the bane of my existence all year--told me, “I can’t write no poems, Ms. Smith. Especially no sonnets.” By the end of the year, Isaiah had written the most beautiful English sonnet, and, to me, it was a small miracle.  
I realize I have no control over whether or not I get called for interviews.  If I revise my résumé one more time, I’ll be able to publish the myriad versions of it as a book in itself.  

But it’s nice to be able to miss things about something you’d come to resent.  It’s nice to miss the good things about teaching. 
The little miracles.


  1. So good to hear you again. I read, but did not comment on your political rant...because that is what it was and it's over...pooey,yuk,gone.
    When you are hurting and in pain you think differently as does your friend who is trying to hold on...believe me she is...there is just so much you can pay in taxes when you find yourself at the food pantry....
    remember what you loved about her and let go

    Netta is quite a character
    I love to hate her
    and the children..well I feel sad for them
    and the nanny....I felt her disconnectedness and lonliness and servitude
    and Netta's husband....not a good man
    maybe that's why Netta is so closed off
    Well, anyway I'm glad your back to writing
    Sonnets? Love to read them...some anyway...but writing them!!!!!!!!!!
    Let go of your anger and be filled with joy
    You have life and love
    you are a rich woman

  2. So good to hear from you again, Suz. Yes, my last post was quite a departure, to say the least, but I can't apologize for countering falsehoods with truth. (She was really just a person I used to know, anyway). But like you said, that's over!! Back to more important things...like Netta!

    Boy, I wish I could share my latest draft. Adam promises to give it the once over after I've completed a few more rounds of revision, but I became so accustomed to sharing the story with my 12 readers (ha!) that it feels funny to keep it to myself these days. As for the sonnets, that student I wrote about was a 6th grader! Oh, the little miracles!

    Anyhoo, thanks for stopping by, Suz! Don't be a stranger :-)

  3. My my my you sound like yourself again!!
    Oh I can wait for the book signing...front row seat of course
    a 6th grader! sonnets!
    Oh and about control..
    we have no power there..
    but what lies within ourselves

  4. Suz, I think it's okay to feel anger once in a while--especially over the injustices in the world--though, when it comes from me, I like to refer to it more as "passionate defiance"--ya like that?

    I love what you said about my being a "rich woman"...such a lovely characterization--thank you! And I think it's true--I'm blessed in SO many ways. But some days it's hard to step outside of myself to realize it.

    About the book signing--I'm counting on you to send those vibes out into the universe...I need all the help I can get!

    So have a wonderful day, Suz! 80 degrees and sunshine!!! :-)

  5. I want to be sitting next to Sue at the book signing! Will catch up with your blog soon! Busy year! And about the little book, I will be glad to explain it to you. It's quite easy. I will write it down and get back to you. Glad you like it!

  6. Aren't blogs amazing places for getting things said? Sometimes it doesn't even matter if no-one reads the words...it is just the act and discipline of putting them out there into the universe.

    For some reason I feel so strongly that all the "letting go" is going to take you someplace that will surprise you.

    I sound like one of those fortune teller chicks, don't it?

    But I really have learned from living a life of loss and change that although the getting there isn't always the fun part...the things you learned along the way always add value...even if it is the hard-won, soul-bleeding kind.

    Take a deep breath.

    And let go.

    The ride can be amazing.

  7. Yes, Jenny! Blogs are a great means for getting things "said" as you put it--not to mention cheaper than therapy...ha-ha :-)

    Thank you a million times over for your kind words and positive energy--you and Suz both are very wise women, and I know that once I "let go" of the resentment (as well as my righteous indignation!) I'll have a much clearer perspective on things.

    Thanks again, Jenny, and have a wonderful day! Here in Chicago it's positively gorgeous--yay!