changing careers after twenty years

Last week it was 1976 with side trips to 1992 and 1974. My political awakening, understanding and jading. Politics, though it touches our lives in ways most of us barely acknowledge if we realize it at all, are not what brings music to our soul or dance to our toes.

The summer of ’93 brought me back to writing via a pocket sized notebook I took along to New York City. I was staying with a friend, Lisa J, who was in one of what turned out to be three different internships. I think it was surgery that time because she was doing a lot of needlepoint. I remember being a tad disappointed when she didn’t settle on pathology because I thought it would be cool to have a medical examiner for a friend.

Her apartment was one of those renovated old buildings/warehouses in Brooklyn with a doorman. It was within walking distance of the subway station. She instructed me in its use during a day trip to Manhattan. We went to the Battery and took the ferry out to Ellis and Liberty Islands. Someday I would love to go back to Ellis and just sit and write. There is the start of a story waiting there for me, I think. I have no interest in Liberty. That surf pounding last scene in Planet of the Apes where Charlton Heston curses the American goddess has turned the statue into something I will forever identify as creepy and apocalyptic.

I wrote and wrote and then went home and taught writing to 8th graders, who were frankly not much of an outlet. I have never truly enjoyed teaching writing to children when it went beyond the building blocks. Most of them – like most adults – suck when pushed to be creative. Competency can be taught but flair and the ability to tell a story? Not so much.

It was the next year that I wrote my first novella. The same one that I am slowly transforming into a novel right now. The inspiration came from a week long seminar my SisFriend and I took at Grinnell over the summer. I can’t remember the instructor’s name anymore. Morris Something or perhaps that was reversed. He was very – different.

I had taken the seminar before through my school districts AEA. It was a quick way to rack up credits towards re-certification. The first year had been a Thomas Jefferson scholar named Clay Jenkinson. He gave lectures while in character. That was a bit freaky.

He was cute though – that rumpled, long haired professor thing – and all the middle-aged women at the seminar damn near broke each others bones to sit with him at supper in the dining hall every evening.

I was invited to eat with him once after I mentioned that I didn’t care for the characterization of Ophelia in Hamlet. I have always found her “mad” scene after the death of her father to be over the top. I may have also admitted to thinking that Hamlet is one of the most selfish characters I have ever read. An opinion I still hold.

Getting back to Morris then, he had us write a short story based on an illustration taken from the Chris Van Allsburgh book, The Mystery of Harris Burdick. Interestingly I used that same book as story starters for my students.

So I wrote a novella. I had people read it for the purpose of feedback. I revised it many times and it was one of the pieces I submitted to the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Iowa.

And I got rejected. The end.

I just didn’t have the self-confidence to write and put it out there. This despite the fact that I took creative writing courses over the summers before and after that where I received quite a bit of praise and admonishments to try and publish.

Jump ahead with me to 2006 and masters seminar. I tossed out my written presentation on a whim as I listened to the presenter ahead of me and, riffing off her, totally winged it. The guy who gave his thesis presentation after me was toast. Poor guy. But one thing came out of that presentation that I should have seen coming and yet it caught me a bit off guard when I heard myself close with “…I had thought that obtaining a masters would renew my interest in education and instead it has shown me that what I am meant to be is a writer.”

Epiphanies. They aren’t angels’ bells on a Capra-esque pine, but they jingle just as sweetly.

Today is the first day of the school year back in Des Moines. Well, it is for the staff anyway. The majority of teachers reported back at 8 AM CST. There will be meetings. Some of interest but most are a waste of everyone’s time and patience. Cleaning and organizing and catching up with coworkers that you likely haven’t seen since the last day of school in June. Lesson plans need to be made and class lists beg for perusal. I would have had my room and lessons ready to go by today. It was my habit to spend several hours a morning getting ready starting at the first of the month. I didn’t like the rushed feeling that only three days of preparation gave me. There really are few things more conducive to productivity than an empty classroom and a near empty building.

I think it was harder a few weeks ago than it is today, wrapping my mind around the idea that I will not be teaching this year. That, in all likelihood, I will never teach again. Though education is a subject that is near to my heart and I can be very passionate about, it is no longer where my heart lies. I had a supervisor who would often remark that it takes less than a whole day to forget what it is like to be a classroom teacher. Once you have left the building, you have truly left. Like Elvis. I suppose I will see now how true that is.

Twenty years. Is it possible I spent that much of my life with other people’s children? Where has that 23 year old gone? She really believed that she was making a difference. Interesting that I don’t miss her.

Happy first day back to my friends and coworkers in the Des Moines Public Schools! Go get ‘em!

I have never had much use for New Year’s resolutions. They are usually lightweight and things that a person should be doing anyway or too big to just impose on a whim dictated by the calendar. But, this is an important year.

For me anyway.

I am not going to call them resolutions but goals that I need to work towards now that I am ending a year without Will and starting to seriously consider what shape my life should start to take.

I am at a crossroads with my career – which I hesitate to call it because I am not someone who has ever defined herself by her job. I have a job. It is one of the things that is required of you as a grown-up. I am lucky that I have nearly always enjoyed teaching but it simply funds my life, nothing more.

So, how can I be a crossroads?

I need to decide if it remains a job or becomes a career, I think.

Lately, I have been thinking that perhaps I will not remarry. My single years vastly outnumber my married ones and even my married years when boiled down to an active state of give/take between two people are just a bit more than an eyeblink. I wonder if I truly want to live with a man again and put in the time and effort, make the compromises.

But if I don’t, what fills up that time. My daughter?

Most certainly, but even though she insists she will live with me forever she won’t.

Friends? I have a few and am going to make it a priority to expand my horizons in the coming months.

Family? I think I have struck a happy balance there. I am not going to move home. My sisters are more than capable of taking care of our parents and I think it is time I stepped back from the role of family rock anyway.

So, I need to decide about the career. A career is a labor of love you happen to be paid for too. Is that what I want? I am going to think about it.

I mentioned broadening my circle of friends and that is also a goal for the year. I have acquired yet another babysitting prospect which seems more hopeful than prospects past. If she pans out then I am going to work to find activities to attend, and fun things to do that will help me break out and be a grown-up again.

Finally, I need to decide if I am living in the right place. Assess my compatibility with the area and its occupants. Have my realtor, Tanis, give me a good assessment of the house in case I decide to pull up stakes.

Goals. Things to work on. Positive and necessary. Nothing that requires superhuman willpower or club dues.