1 year ago, I sat in an airport awaiting a flight to a city I had eagerly left – left with a tinge of bitterness, an insatiable desire to start anew, and a necessity to see something other than a Vietnamese supermarket and, on an exciting weekend, a plate of fried vegetables with a vat of ketchup at Chili’s. The flight’s trajectory was the District of Columbia, the city in which I came to be, to Houston, the city of my birth that smells eerily similar to a Rainforest-themed restaurant. Houston would no longer be the final destination as it was merely an extended layover to what was supposedly my final destination: San Francisco, California to become an English teacher extraordinaire.
I was going to teach children the rules of rudimentary, standardized-test friendly writing — writing so inconceivably mind-numbing and boring that, naturally, these children would internalize the rules in an effort to break them. They were going to be the Orwells of their generation, the Dottys of their time, an army of scholars who uniformly believed with complete and utter conviction that the Hawthorne’s The Scarlett Letter is a classic – a classic worthy of nothing more than being a paperweight or, to be more kind, a projectile object set into motion amidst a backdrop of profanity. I was going shape little writing elves in poetry circles and short story workshops. I was going to create a classroom so inconceivably wonderful that the only appropriate visual equivalent would be a rainbow attached to a smiling, naïve sun with Richard Branson hoarding gold on the other side. I was going to save this world one writing prompt about dreams, passion, and/or puppies at a time. I was going to nurture and pat the heads of my queer-identified students and explain, “The details of my personal life, for reasons of legality, cannot be divulged but I support you and that flannel shirt.” Cue frolicking, prancing deer and orchestra music here.
It has been a year. A year since I awoke, 3 hours before my flight, surrounded by my unpacked belongings and frantically forced my roommates to stuff as many of my books, underwear, and Georgetown paraphernalia into my bags. A year since I darted, Home Alone-style, down the terminal of Reagan airport. A year since I had magically bypassed security and, driven by the guilt and the embarrassment of the previous 12 hours, opened this very laptop and began to write:
Contrary to popular notion, I am not one for long mass e-mails, but as I sit at the airport, Texas bound, wearing the dress that I wore last night and surprised that I might be heading “home” in one piece, two things come to mind. First, I need to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Second, that I will miss everyone and everything about DC dearly – and the feeling so overwhelming that I feel compelled to write.
I never finished the contents of the letter, but I did complete the list of people I had intended to send the message to. There were 36 people, most of whom I saw less than a week ago upon returning to DC. To repeat an oft-used phrase, last week was a “full-circle” moment – I had returned to my alma mater to see the very people I had listed only to espouse words eerily similar to what I had wrote. Only to realize that although circumstances have changed, I, in many ways, have not and that it was time to.
It is a difference of context. A year ago, I was certain that the teaching profession was my calling – that I was destined to bridge rhetoric and pedagogy in public education, that I was going to inundate every worksheet I made withPearls Before Swine comic strips and poorly conceived, clearly dated pop culture references circa 1999. Yet, in the last 12 months, I have left an organization (and, in my ways, a profession) that I had differences with, joined the ranks of two more, and found myself grappling with bureaucracy of every shape and size in a city that is far less post-racial American that I had originally imagined. In many ways, the idealistic teacher-to-be has hardened to the reality of world that will change for only a few things: catastrophe, status, money, sex, and sweet, sweet candy. I am still hopeful and idealistic, but cautiously so.
The last year has been a test to my disposition and, to be honest, it has a test of rotating-imaginary-shapes-and-calculating-the-area-of-certain-slices-of-said-shapes-on-the-AP-Calculus-BC-exam proportions (in other words, epic proportions). I have come face to face with my limitations. I cannot depend on caffeinated drinks, youth, and all-nighters in a full-time working world. I cannot wait for a summer break to sustain my efforts. I cannot expect to appease everyone in my life without it taking a toll on myself. I cannot find all the answers. I cannot take on the burden of the world (or the community or even my family) and place it on my shoulders. I cannot drink two glasses of wine after a day of work and not expect to fall asleep, in the fetal position, on my roommates’ bed. It has been a rewarding, tumultuous, difficult, beautiful, ridiculous 12 months and truth of any kind is still very much elusive. Perhaps the difference 12 months can make is that this reality no longer bothers me. So this is adulthood.
The wide-eyed girl who sat in the airport a year ago writing a letter to 36, chatted face to face, one year later, with the intended recipients bearing a look of fatigue and uncertainty. For a year, I held onto the idea that I could sustain the romantic notions of the world I had built in college in this “real world”. I don’t think I can save the world, but I no longer believe the world is mine to be saved – or that I have the knowledge or authority to lay claim to the saving.
Yet, the tidbits of advice I have received from older colleagues leave me hopeful and yes, still idealistic. Find things that are meaningful, foster the relationships you have, travel often, seek adventure, learn, continue working (hard) for worthwhile causes, find time to write pretentious things like this entry (I mean, did I really just write that “truth of any kind if still very much elusive?” Who the fuck am I, Jewel?). As decisions in the next week or so determine where I go next (professionally – geographically, I have finally found a city I want to commit to), the context – all the intangible things I mentioned – in which I make my decision will factor in far more than the standards I held by in college (prestige, expectation, obligation, world-saving).
What a (welcomed) difference a year makes.