Notes from the Field: 1 Year

There are some stretches I thought about it obsessively.  There are some months it never crossed my mind.  In a little less than a week, I will have been out of the classroom for one year.

This time last year I was attempting to have a complete and gracious ending, staying out of my head as much as possible, letting my time with kids and colleagues serve as reflection time.  Some moments I really sucked at that, but there were also picture perfect moments I can call to mind.  Now, I am sitting in the backyard of my Airbnb, watching birds, listening to the fountain, smelling citrus and jasmine, and feeling the sun on my shin bones.  Basically, perfection.

Taking a few days to roam, listen, and rest, has been the perfect way to say ‘thank you’ to myself for the hard work of this year.  And although Delaney Walkabout will go on forever, I wanted to try and put a few closing thoughts to this tumultuous first year.  I’m going to give it to you listicle style–seeing that I’m pretty fucking relaxed right now and transitions and logical flow seem too tricky to care about.  Also, these are in zero order, and may likely repeat each other.

My love goes out to the world as I write this, ever involved in its own leavings, beginnings, reclamations, and rewrites.  May this be a smidge of sustenance as we create beauty out of struggle.

  1.  I got my back.  It’s beautiful that I am coming to trust others more and more, butt the problem is I used to never really trust myself.  Now that I’ve survived and even thrived in this year, I have concrete proof that I can take care of myself, regulate myself, move myself when the time is ripe for moving.
  2. I am more than one thing.  In fact, the number of things I am is somewhat astounding.
  3. I love kids, always will.
  4. I no longer think of the choice to leave school as the “right choice.”  It was a choice I made, one that I mostly happy with on most days.
  5. If I wanted to go back to the classroom, I begin to see what the path back would look like.  It has to do with learning to leave before I’m exhausted, not squeezing the good until it suffocates, understanding where my innate desire to be generous stops and martyrdom begins, and getting way more comfortable with conflict and pissing people off.  As much as I love teaching English, I don’t think that could be my subject anymore.  I need more non-grading paper time than that subject allows–time to follow myself.
  6. As much as I’ve slowed down this year, think in fact that I am the Mighty Empress of Slowed Downness, there is room to go even slower.  This is something worth pursuing, although I fear it.
  7. Speaking of fear, I can tolerate a whole lot more of it than I thought, and not die.  I can sit in the unknown without running–granted, I may fidget a mighty piece, but I don’t have to run.  Instead, I’m learning to flex and bend when things don’t go as planned.
  8. Childcare is not my final career stop, but I really like hanging out with little kids right now.  I realize though that I am very concerned what other people think of it, me the almost 40 year old babysitter.  In reality, I’m probably the only one passing judgement on myself–selfish (to put myself first, take my time, expect to get around the icky parts of adulting), irresponsible (not to use my gifts to their fullest potential, largest good), lazy (even though 11am-1am the next day fits me a lot better than 6am-9pm).  I wonder if being ‘important’ was my way to get around people noticing I am weird–aka “She’s a little strange, but she’s great with the kids.”
  9. Vulnerability is not incompetence.
  10. Part of my shame, vigilance, lack of self acceptance is inherited from the family line.
  11. As I’ve come to trust myself more this year, I’ve been less scared of men and the masculine in myself.  Call it a truce, a healing, or a further step in integrating all the compartments of my life, but I like it.
  12. I can keep trying to earn love if I want, but it is such a waste of time as it is literally in everything.  Love is the physical substance this universe is comprised of.
  13. There is an abundance of time, energy, opportunities, provisions, everything.  Believing it is scarce is just an excuse I make to keep me from listening, following, change, and being scared.
  14. The more I listen, the better I get at listening.
  15. Nurturing your friendships is important and awesome.
  16. Just because I have more time, doesn’t mean I will use it wisely.  It also doesn’t mean I will not get tired.
  17. I actually really like surprises and adventures.  This is shocking considering how tiny I had my life pulled in around me as of a few years ago.

I’m sure there are more, and maybe I’ll come add them later, but now it’s time for a nap and then the beach.  Or the beach and then a nap.  Hard to say.  Happy UnTeachaversary Delaney.  As your friends from your last school said last night in your dream, “We are happy for you” (and they said it while throwing celebration candy up to me in a tree, which made it even more awesome).


What I Really Wanted

If you are a non-child bearing or rearing adult, your Saturday morning is probably spent sleeping in, making coffee, and checking your social media.  Mine is now spent fighting evil, trash sneezing monsters that are polluting the ocean and killing all the fish, with the help of the characters from Paw Patrol, whose names I actually know.  About five minutes into this week’s battle, which consisted of Paxton throwing karate moves and me throwing bark at the play structure, I paused for a water break–our rules of engagement being slightly different than that of the current day military.

“Paxton, can I ask how this bad guy turned bad?  I mean, did he always sneeze trash at people for fun?”

“No, he used to be a good guy, but then a bad guy tricked him and said he’d give him candy if he sneezed trash on people.  Now, he’s been doing it for so long that he just does it for fun.”

“Wow….I kinda feel bad for him now.  Sounds like he had a rough childhood without anyone to teach him or take care of him.”

Sigh.  “Are you going to say we should forgive him now and not kill him?  That’s what my mom always says that you have to forgive everyone.  That’s the rule.”

And I paused.  The adult in me, the habits from years of being an authority figure, and the ghost of a Pentecostal upbringing, all urged me to agree with his mom.  But I couldn’t, so I didn’t.  I went on to tell him that, although he has a great mom, I disagree with her on this one.  And that even though it usually makes us feel better to forgive, there is nothing that says you have to, and in fact, you might have very good reasons for not forgiving (especially if you are a four year old getting bullied at preschool, with a new baby brother that dethrones you from being the only child).  “Besides,” I ended with, “it’s not real forgiveness if someone makes you do it.”  We then went on to brutally slay the evil, trash sneezing monster together.  Side note: it made for some very delicious evil monster sushi, so we did use what we killed 😉

As I cleaned my house this afternoon, letting my mind wander with scrubbing and vacuuming, it hit me.  That moment was and is a huge part of what I really wanted with teaching (especially in my latter years), what I rarely feel I reached, with the exception of social moments with students.  It’s part of why I grew increasingly frustrated.  Where the curriculum, both created and forced on us, looked at a subject from one angle, or with one application in mind, I wanted to teach in 360 degrees, full of paradox, application, and mess–aka how we actually learn outside of the school environment.  Common Core promised some of this, and I approached it independently in my own classroom and with colleagues over the years, but it never flowered.  I lacked skill and energy, and the system was only adaptable to a certain point.  Especially here in Silicon Valley, it was difficult to create learners because grades were more status, yours and/or your parents, and a future big paycheck.

This of course simplifies the issues in play, but I’m writing a personal blog post here, not a treatise on the problems in public education.  So what would this look like?  Good question since I’ve never gotten very close to it.  If I taught in 360, I’d be able to tell a student, “I will be wrong about so many things while we’re together, because no one knows you like you do, but I am going to ask you to trust me anyways.  Trust me and challenge me when you think I’m full of it.”  Ownership.  Acknowledgement of shared humanity.  I’d have more than a year or two in which to develop that environment.  Maybe not a full ten or twelve like I’ve heard of in some Waldorf schools, but we’d be stuck with each other until we could work our shit out.

I’d be able to OPENLY bring into question ALL the unquestionables: the authority of parents-church-government-medicine, social constructs like success and gender, physical realities like time, and the list goes on.  I’d be able to do this without having an apocalyptic parental/administrative response.  And if there was a kerfluffle with parents, I’d have few enough students that I could sit down with a parent for an hour and talk it through without that hour costing me three of my weekend.  I’d have few enough students that if someone wanted to skip studying one thing, I could send them off to read and learn as they please, and actually check back in with them.

And what about the planned curriculum?  Let me take one example from my English teacher life: the plot line.  All students, almost every year, learn and revisit the parts of a plot.  The hope is that each time you revisit the knowledge, it is deepened in some way.  In theory, this is great, but the plot line can only get so fucking deep before a kid’s eye rolls and moans are 110% justified.  Now here’s the thing, I think knowledge of the plot line is tremendously valuable, but for totally different reasons: changing your personal story mid-course, predicting and avoiding mistakes in history, being able to step back from the stories that come to you each day and see the greater human significance, also to see the individual players and who is gaining/losing in the midst of each story.  Why are there multiple versions of the same story?  What do we say to the stories that have been lost, either by accident or by force?  Why are we so easily controlled by advertising?  How does the brain function in storing and making meaning of stories?  I may be fucking insane, but I think answers to most of these questions, and way far juicier ones, are resident in the simple, boring plot line.  What if we could look at all of it?

And the truth is, we can’t.  Not in the system we have now.  Probably not even completely in the best of alternative schools.  But that’s what I really wanted.  I wanted them to not have to wait till college for messy learning.  I felt my shoulders drop and my exhale sound when I straight up told a four year old that his mom could be awesome, but still be wrong, and that there could be other ways to look at it.  Forgiveness could be a virtue, but not a law, and it could still be okay to want to kill a monster, even one with a tragic backstory.

There are no solutions in this understanding, but there is relief in being able to articulate, at least a little better, what was missing.

A Love Letter to My Mistakes

It’s beyond my scope to write this, because in this moment, the unknown, including mistakes, feels terrifying.  But I started thinking of my kids tonight, the biological offspring that I will not have.  I don’t know why.  Maybe because Mother’s Day just passed, and the phone message from my mom said, “I’m proud of the life you have made.”  It moved me, but then my panic grew in the last few days as I obsessed over the message.  How did I make this life, I wondered tonight?  What would I tell my children?  The answer came simple.

I would tell them I made many beautiful mistakes.  Useful mistakes.  Mistakes for which I have intimate fondness, and I plan to make many more until I die.

As I stayed with this phrase it resonated, it grew.  I’ve been wrong a lot and it’s helped me be new when I had no other way forward.  So although I can’t believe I’m saying this, to my imaginary children, may you make beautiful mistakes.  May you give too much love to a cause, a faith, an institution.  May it shut down two thirds of you and make the other third bloom and sizzle with fireworks that pull down heaven.  May it bring you hundreds of trusting eyes that say, “Okay, it’s hard, but I’ll try,” and may you cry over every single one of them until there are no tears left for you.  May you leave way later than you should so that you will be ready to understand that time is not linear, control is an illusion, and to be whole you must be allowed to stay fluid.

May you follow a boy or a girl who does not love you across a state, a country, the world.  Outside of your bunker, may you see everything that your old gods kept from you.  May your anger at being lied to burn the whole fucking city to the ground.  Yes, your buildings will burn too, but the things that survive will now catch your eye in a way they didn’t when they were background clutter.   Don’t flutter or bat an eyelash as you bend yourself into the wrong shape, for her or him, so you may know what the right shape is– uncurl your toes, scoop up the skin that melted at his touch, and listen to the green blood of trees till you can hear and reconstruct everything.

May you put your trust in friends that will betray you when their wounds conflict with your future.  Collect scrapbooks, movie tickets, theater programs, plan to buy houses next to each other and live there till you die.  Then cry and scream and throw it all in the trash one night because you are not property, you are not a bandage, and you are no longer in need of a ceiling on your house.  May you heal slowly, so that the ones who enter now do so on fertilized ground, not stumbling over corpses.  May you pay too much for friendship so you realize that you don’t have to pay anything.

May you leave many things that are good enough, scandalizing the faithful, worrying the vigilant.

May you bounce checks but still pay rent.

May you do all manner of stupid, ill-advised things that bring you face to face with terror and the silence in your own center.

May your mistakes send you over cliffs and not into brackish ponds, so that your grief filled lungs get strong and fond of screaming.

May you do all your errands belatedly, but always make time for a friend.

And yes, there are consequences to all these mistakes.  You will pay, you will burn, you will grieve, but you can hardly begin to believe the you that is in you, sitting quietly, waiting for the correctness to pass.

Can you let it be done?

I danced with a chair last night.  You heard me, a chair.  The invitation during the night’s meditation cycle of sit, walk, dance, was to feel into what it is like to be beloved, to know your presence matters to others.  And though it was not posed as a question, my mind translated:  how would I move if I were certain of being loved?  I have little problem with loving myself.  That wasn’t always true, but the amount of romance between me-myself-and-I is downright blush-worthy these days.  It’s other people’s love I am not always sure of.

As I got ready to leave the first sitting meditation, I almost missed my own quick whisper: take the chair with you.  Wait, what?  If you really believed you were loved, you would not feel you have to do anything to earn that.  You would plop a metaphorical chair down wherever you needed.  You would learn to be, and be involved, without doing.  Oh.

I can’t tell you how awkward I felt.  Not only does a chair have different weight and dimensions than my usual dance partners, but I felt very visible.   Carrying the possibility of not working for love,  while still asserting my right to take up space, felt dangerous.  I was afraid of accidentally poking people with the chair legs, and when I finally picked my moments and my spots to sit, right amidst all the other dancers, I had no idea what to do.  In short, it was perfect.

I know it doesn’t sound perfect, but I find myself contemplating another question lately that is closely tied to this one:  how do I notice oncoming exhaustion and do something different before it gets here, including possibly leaving?  This can apply to exhaustion with people, events, places, or ideas.  Needing to earn love is part of why I have little blueprint for how to do that.  In this light, I feel mercy flavor my frustration for myself.  I’ve been trying to protect what I once viewed as a finite love supply, by running myself into the ground (gotta love perfectionist logic).  In this same vein, I realized a few weeks ago that I have been confusing protection for support.  Turns out they are not the same thing, though they may be related.  I’ve been staying where I feel protected, not seeing that there was little to no UNCONDITIONAL support available–people are surprisingly willing to protect their martyrs, those who have died for the cause, without being willing to step into the lions den with them.

I have however started to change these patterns in recent years.  Exhibit A: It took me multiple years to recognize that I was exhausted with both Christianity and public education.  Exhibit B: I stayed with my last relationship about a year past the point of being done.  Exhibit C: I only stewed in my done-ness with being a flower shop girl this Fall for about a month.  I understand much more quickly these days when things aren’t fitting, but I still stay with bad fits for longer than I would care to, feel the need to justify my leaving with, “I did everything I could.”  I have trouble softening the rigidity of my thinking when things are “good” and I decide steadfastly to stay forever.  I pledged my undying love to the salted caramel ice cream from Rick’s Rather Rich in Palo Alto….somewhere during the first bite?  I then ate it for months, till I could barely stand the smell of it.

Thus, I am once again marshaling my creativity to once again face this piece of myself.  I am accepting, mostly with gratitude, how many smaller questions and lessons flow into this larger one.  I dance with chairs.  I stop eating halfway through. I’ve even entertained the possibility of taking a Monday a month away from dance, not to deprive myself, but to allow for things to stay flexible and not dogmatic.  I can leave the good, I can leave the bad, and endings are rarely tied into a perfect bow.  Sadly, I know I have tremendous resistance to all of this: not being exhausted, not being a perfectionist, a martyr.  I’ve literally played a couple hundred games of Fruit Ninja on my phone in the last few weeks, always when I finally have some time to write this post.  This is a tremendously confusing paradox, since I have enjoyed nothing more this year than slowing the fuck down.  I could guess at what I am afraid of, but I haven’t really met it yet.

I now have this unfinished mandala hanging on my bathroom mirror.  It literally makes my skin crawl and my ears itch with all the white spaces that should be filled in, but I will leave it there as I keep learning (even if sometimes I have to brush my teeth in the living room as a result).  I’ve hit on a foundational question for me, and I am willing to stick with it while I learn how not to stick with it.



Moving Day

It doesn’t feel like a lot; a few bags of books, folders, and classroom decorations.  There’s another box of thank you letters and posters in the closet.  Even if I was a classic teacher pack rat, the emotional weight of thirteen years would still be greater than the physical weight.

And I’m seized with so many competing, colluding, colliding thoughts and emotions as I sit on my couch and watch it all on the kitchen table:

I want to cry and look at all of it, piece by piece, hour by hour, for a senseless amount of time.  I will post each item on Facebook and all the teacher tribe will reminisce together over virtual beers.  They will know that there are just as many stories surrounding my classroom pencil sharpener as there are my first yearbook.

I want to jam all of it under my pillow and see if any part of it will whisper to me something I have missed, part of the secret magic that everyone knows but me.

I want to tear out some pages, maybe from my first year teaching journal, maybe an old worksheet full of sentence frames, and lick them, maybe chew them.  I think my stomach might digest what my brain fumbles through.

I want to throw it all together in a book, exactly how it is now, no order, personal notes and reflections right next to curriculum  and lists of parents to call.  Would that book make just as little sense and be just as beautiful as the last thirteen years?

I want to throw it all off a fucking cliff.  Not in a spiritual purification kind of way, but in a hahahaha, I don’t have to get up before the sun anymore to do things that hurt my integrity and require a partially numbed heart to accomplish.

I want to pick up all the pieces and bang them very loudly against different surfaces of my house.  I am curious about their music, now, from the outside.

I want to start carrying pieces in my purse and leaving them all over the Bay Area.  Someone would find a gong in their driveway.  Someone else would find a gold leaf copy of Madame Bovary sitting on their table at Pho Hoa.  A communal scavenger hunt.

I want to whine to this pile of props, tell them how it is not fair that I can’t have both me and the classroom.  While my body can stretch two directions at once with no pain, my heart cannot, and it is NOT FAIR.

I want them to tell me if they think I’m crazy to consider living outside the box, outside the groove.  Yes, these inanimate objects are definitely judging me, asking who I’m kidding to try and not be a creature of habit.

I want to save the bits I could one day pass on to other teachers–the strivers, hopers, magic makers, balance keepers.  I ask them if they want to go live on my new teacher farm one day, prop up the newbies with this bone deep, wise paradox.

They said they’ll get back to me.