Showing up

Here I am, showing up, doing the thing I’ve assigned myself to do.

I feel a little hollow, scraped out. Writer’s block is when you have the words but can’t release them. They’re trapped behind a wall. I think I’ve got writer’s drought. Lots of arid sky in my head, dendrites dry as August dirt.

Tears came easily this week. Thursday, I had a panting, sweaty meltdown: droplets spattered everywhere. I thought some physical work would make me feel better, but instead of dissipating a persistent ennui it activated a wet rage. (At least my garage and yard look better.)

I have nothing worth saying today. Feel as if I have been swimming and swimming in everyone’s torrent of words for weeks now, and all I want to do is lie still on some shore and dry out a bit.

School (what is school now?) ended Friday, but I still have tasks to be done, so the work hasn’t ended. Two weeks ago our leaders asked us to vote on taking furlough days, and last week they told us they’re giving themselves raises. Thursday our state released guidance for re-opening, and it all sounds impossible. People talk as if the virus must conform to what we feel able to do, and I want to scream at them that that is not how viruses work, but my throat is dry and I just let my words fester in my mouth. Friday I went into my building to check out for the year and no one was wearing a mask. No one. I looked at the clutter of papers and books I left on my desk on March 13 and just left it all there. I went back home and kept working. We teachers are asking ourselves what we will and won’t do, what risks we can and can’t afford, and the questions feel as theoretical and fantastical as the state’s guidance.

To be in a position of being able to ask such questions–to have choices to make–is a privilege not all enjoy. (It’s one I don’t enjoy, not really. I will be at work in the fall, in whatever form it takes.)

My C-19 test was negative. Quarantine is a kind of island, could be a shore–but it feels more like a cage. I got the result the same day I had the meltdown. I was still too sick to mow the lawn, sweep the garage.

Last night, lying in bed, I did the kind of math I do when I want to get grounded, even though it’s kind of a mind-fuck, too. Sort of like looking in a mirror until you become too aware of your own consciousness. I began teaching 30 years ago. When I started teaching in 1990, those who’d been teaching as long as I have been would have started in 1960. In 1990, 1960 felt like another era. It was. (Was there even anyone teaching who’d started in the 1950’s? I don’t know. Seems like everyone retired when they hit that 30-year mark.)

When I started teaching, we didn’t all have our own computers. I used a clunky beige box of a Mac in a communal office. No internet. No email. No phones, pads, tablets, social media. Instructional technology was a ditto machine.

How much adaptation can an organism withstand in its lifetime, how many times can it change?

After the meltdown, I wrote out all the things I’ve been carrying, trying to understand why they feel so heavy when my burdens are so relatively light. In the days since, I cannot stop hearing Friar Laurence’s rant to Romeo, in the play I taught to students the first four years of my career:

I have a job: There art thou happy!

I have a home: There art thou happy!

My children have what they need: There art thou happy!

I am not sick. No one I love has died: There art thou happy!

I am white. There art thou happy!

There is food in the grocery store. There art thou happy!

There is rain on the ground, watering my onions and garlic and cauliflower. There art thou happy!

To which I want to say: Yes. And also: Fuck you, Friar Laurence, you stupid bumbler who made everything worse. Impact has always mattered more than intention.

More math: The oldest of my first students are now 48. 48! “Some of your students are probably grandparents now,” Cane says to me. I remember a senior boy, Jeff, last period of the day, all shit-eating grin saying to me: “You just have to understand, Ms. Evans, that most days I’m going to be stoned.” We didn’t have “resource officers” in school then. (Why don’t we call them what they are: police. Who do we think we’re kidding?) I just told Jeff to go back to his seat. He did. I laughed about it in the teacher’s lounge later, a room stale and bitter from the cigarettes my colleagues sucked into their lungs during passing time or their prep periods. It was a different era.

I’m thinking now of Langston Hughes and his Theme for English B.

This is me, hoping that this page is true.

14 thoughts on “Showing up

  1. Marian says:

    “I have nothing worth saying today.” I so disagree, Rita. FWIW, I’m glad you’re continuing to show up here. Your words matter. To me, and, I’m sure, to countless others as well. (And maybe the teacher in you will be just a tiny bit glad to know at least one reader took Romeo and Juliet down from her No Fear Shakespeare collection so she could read the translated side because she wanted to fully understand a piece of writing that held the words “Hang up philosophy!”?)

    I’ve been crying a lot lately too. Sometimes I feel as if I’m a seer, with all the shoes that I *knew* would eventually drop falling all at once; other times I think no, duh, no one is capable of telling the future, it’s just that deep down I’m a pessimist and a cynic, and that I/we just happen to be living at a time at which this great (or really not great) human experiment is finally approaching its limits. (Clearly, my words aren’t coming anymore either. They’ve been completely extinguished by the too-muchness of everything 2020 has brought.)

    I’m relieved that your COVID test came back negative, Rita.

    • Rita says:

      Hi Marian,
      I’ve been wondering and thinking about you, wishing we could meet to talk all of these things through. You got me to go back to Shakespeare, too, and read through the whole scene again, more carefully. I have to say that Romeo reminds me of a lot of white people I’ve seen lately. (I’ve never been a fan of Romeo. Juliet, though–she’s a badass. Never thought he was worthy of her.) The teacher in me is a tiny bit glad, for sure. And the reader, as well–to have even a small bit of dialogue about a text I first read more than 40 years ago.

      I don’t think that seeing the logical outcomes of current practices and policies makes one cynical or pessimistic. Perhaps just a realist? Sometimes I feel like Cassandra. Other times I am astonished at all that I haven’t seen in my life and wonder what I am missing now. I guess we can all be both, at different times–a truth seer/teller and blind to truth.

      You take care, Marian. I know you’re not a person to ever turn away from the world. I hope you take the breaks you need so that you can continue to remain in it.

      • Marian says:

        Thank you for this, Rita. You’re right—I’m not a person to ever turn away from the world. It’s been incredibly difficult to bear witness to everything that’s been going on, to absorb all the conflict, to *see* what the natural consequences will be. I sometimes wish that I could have just detached right at the beginning and gone into self-protection mode like some people I know IRL; alternatively, I often wish I had been able to show up to my blog in the way you’ve shown up to yours. (I’ve been writing a lot, but my anxiety has been through the roof, and I haven’t been able to do anything with those words. This, of course, then adds to the anxiety…)

        Also: I am most definitely a Cassandra! (She says after having to google it.) It’s an exhausting and thankless role, but I kinda love that I now have a name for it.

        You take care too, Rita.

        • Rita says:

          Bearing witness has its own value. As for detaching and self-protecting–I think that’s a thing we can do at times, as we need to, so that we can stay attached for the long haul. That’s what I do, anyway.

  2. TD says:

    I’m grateful that you are showing up, Rita, (even if it is a self-assignment for as long as it benefits you in any way!). And at least your garage and yard look better, as the benefits of an escape and release of whatever energy that you needed or wanted to let go!

    I enjoy seeing the update self portrait photo of you!! I’m glad that you are part of my week.

    “It was a different era…” Absolutely true!! May your vision become clear; May your fatigue become well rested; May your work break allow you to self care of your desire to find grounding and may the summer months refresh your spirit.

    • Rita says:

      Thank you, TD. I did about two hours of very sweaty yard work yesterday, and it was the best kind of therapy. I hope you are settling into your new home and finding similar satisfactions.

      • TD says:

        Yes, Rita, I am settling in with where I landed. And my Yorkie and I are developing new routines to adjust to life now. Although I will say that it has/is a struggle of my own particularly situation trying to navigate so much unknowns, and the how nows, with a realistic understanding of my own aging, limitations and awareness. My therapy is holding my Yorkie and constantly reminding myself and giving care and comfort that “We are okay; and we are both managing the moment as best as we are able, even when our best isn’t good; and even during our own meltdown episodes.” I certainly relate to meltdowns!

  3. Kari Wagner Hoban says:

    Oh man, do I feel this.
    I was just sitting on my couch this morning thinking of privilege. How so many people I know (me included) are so dense because we are LUCKY. We don’t have to worry about the simplest of things, yet we worry about things that don’t include where our next meal will come from. This is not to say that our worries aren’t important but you know what I mean.
    Maybe that’s my new migraine prevention meds talking (also lucky to have those)….oh the slippery slope.
    I hate this time we live in right now. I just want a time machine so badly.
    Kari Wagner Hoban recently posted…I Love LucyMy Profile

    • Rita says:

      My journey to more truly understanding race in this country began in 2016. I had some understanding before, but I didn’t begin to really get it until then. And even now, four years and consistent efforts to learn later, I am sure I have far to go. As part of a year-end reflection at work, I was asked to say where I am on my “equity journey.” I didn’t know how to answer. To answer, I’d have to know things I’m sure I don’t know. All I could say was, “In the middle? At the end of the beginning? I don’t really know.”

      Sometimes I have a deep longing to return to how I felt before I had the understanding I do. You know, ignorance is bliss and all that. But I don’t really, even though this place is painful. And that’s not coming from a place of relativity or fairness about pain. When people say, “But we shouldn’t say that (we want to go back) because our discomfort is nothing compared to the pain of people of color, and they can never choose to turn away from the realities of racism the way we can” they are saying, “Suck it up because you still don’t have it as bad as other people do.” That’s true, but that’s not a compelling reason for me to stay in the discomfort or wish it away. I want a better world for my kids–for everyone’s kids–and I know that the only way from a bad place to a better one is through. So, while I wish I could feel the way I used to, I keep trying to push myself through. And drag as many people with me as I can. 🙂

      Now, if your time machine is about the fricking pandemic–that’s a whole other thing. Although, I kind of have to be grateful for that, too. I think the pandemic has created the pressure we need to finally, maybe, address some things that have long been problems. I hate that we humans are like this. Why do we have to suffer and destroy to do the right things?

      But none of this is easy, that’s for sure. I do know what you mean. I’m glad you’re getting some migraine relief. I am always so, so grateful for my meds. And always aware of my privileges when I take them.

  4. Kate says:

    You mentioned in your comment above to Marian that sometimes you feel like Cassandra. I *just* said that to Jesse this last weekend. It was more personal than pandemic/race related but it can be so hard to see things, try to help others see, and not get anywhere. (I don’t know if it’s because I relate but I feel her curse is the absolute WORST.)

    I’m glad you’re writing here. Even if you don’t feel like you have words. I feel a little less alone reading what you send out to the world.

    I appreciated the exposure to Theme for English B and Romeo was *such* a weenie.

    • Rita says:

      Don’t get me started on Romeo! The more I’ve thought about him this morning, the more I see him as a metaphor for well-meaning, liberal white people. But I’m not a Friar Laurence fan, either.

      I’ve felt like a Cassandra many times in this life. I agree that it is a terrible curse. I’m sure there are worse–glad I’m not sporting a head full of snakes, the sight of which turns men to stone. Although, there might be some upside to that…;-)

      • Kate says:

        I think I’d much prefer being a Medusa but maybe because I feel like not being HEARD is the absolutely worst and her head full of snakes is pretty powerful.

        I don’t know if I have ANY R&J character that I like but I can see Romeo as the quality metaphor you suggest.

        • Rita says:

          Medusa is powerful, I’ll give you that. I can definitely see why you’d prefer being her. There’s a Buzzfeed quiz for you: Which cursed woman from mythology are you? 😉

  5. Skye leslie says:

    Hi Darling Rita:

    Well, I don’t know anything more true than transparency and, to me, it seems transparency is a tool you’ve fine honed. And, I feel honored to read someone’s true experiences, particularly now is this cracked and par boiled world we’re in.

    Personally, the only path which gives me any peace in these days of reckoning is the spiritual. I’m much more comfortable than ever before with mystery and the unknowing. I can’t do the math. The equations I’d put together regarding my own life would, I think, too often appall me. However, I like your math. I’d love to be able to total up the number of lives that mine has touched and dream about impact and contribution and multiplication of effect. Because I know, because of you, it’s been there. So be the lady who went to the grocery store with so many coupons in hand the cashier actually wound up giving money back to her. Cuz that’s the way I’m choosing to believe it’s worked out.

    Funny, I had almost exactly the same experience of taking out some of my, shall we say, slightly stuffed frustration out on my garden. Pulling, tugging, troweling combined with a bit of over watering suddenly made me realize that I was doing more harm than good.

    It righteously pisses me off that part of my spiritual practice involves sitting with issues like senseless killing of Black men and women. How does anyone hold, without breaking in half, almost 9 minutes of a boot fit firmly on a person’s neck? Where do I find any understanding? Am I nuts or the only person in the country who rises each day to find that another African American has been shot to death for absolutely no reason – and discovers that latent within me is the desire to go out and find that policeman and do the same thing to him?

    Right now, I’m at work trying to find poetry I can make out of the situation this country is in. The only thing is – some of the stuff I’m writing, although it may be half way good, sounds exactly like a repetition of the 60s and 70s. “There’s a man with a gun over there . . . .”

    Anyway, my content is rambling – what i specifically wanted to say is that your writing is meaningful to me and invites me to open spaces with more ease than I would normally find.

    All the best to you and a whole lotta love

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