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.