I've got about 45 minutes between parent-teacher conferences this evening, and I'm caught up enough in planning and grading to allow myself a few minutes to tell you about this school year.
My planning period is first hour this semester, which I don't mind. It's nice to have time in the morning to make sure I have what I need for the day ready to go. Plus, I actually eat breakfast. I've taken to keeping some cereal/granola in my office, a carton of milk in the mini-fridge, and a bowl and spoon. I don't have to force-feed myself at 5:30 AM, nor do I just skip eating until lunch at 12:30. It feels like a more civilized way to begin each day.
Second period is Advanced Drama. I have a great, if eclectic group of 14 kids this term. There are some really talented die-hards in there and some green newbies to the world beyond Drama 1. What's tricky is that there are only 3 boys and 11 girls. That is not a great ratio when it comes to finding plays.
Happily, though, the stars aligned for me. I've been sitting on Mary Zimmerman's "The Secret in the Wings" for a while now waiting for the right group to do it. Not only does it suit this class well, but we're going to see Lookingglass Theater's production of Lookingglass Alice at the DCTC next Wednesday. With Mary Zimmerman working so closely and so frequently with Lookingglass Theater, it's the perfect chance for them to both see and to play with that type of theater.
My third hour is probably my trickiest this term. It's Speech, and I have the usual array of smart kids, veteran speechers who repeat the elective, and shy kids who are trying to break out of their shells. The problem is I also have four sophomore football players and one football wanna-be who are upset that they're in the class. They're disruptive, defiant, and rude; but the only other elective offered that hour is Jesse's guitar class and he's got the other half of this bad set of sophomores (the slacker/stoners of the group).
It's a battle, but I'm optimistic for the long term. I'd hoped that a month into the class they'd quit complaining when I ask them to stand up for warm-ups ("But I'm tired!") or to time their pieces ("But I don't want to perform!") or to find a piece in the first place ("But I don't want to be in this class!"). My response is a constant, "Tough. You're here, and I expect you to participate." I'm upping the disciplinary consequences now that we've established that they're here to stay and I'm not cutting them slack. I don't think their attitudes will change, but I think they will quit sucking away the pleasure and the progress the class offers all the other kids.
4A is a brand-new class. The counselor last year was desperately seeking options for new electives. I tossed out a few ideas while chatting with her one day, then to my surprise discovered them all on my schedule for this year.
This one is fun, though. After many requests from the Humanities students, we're doing a World Mythology course. Like my first time teaching Humanities, I'm constantly racing to stay at least one day ahead of them in the curriculum. Of course, there is no actual curriculum for me to pull from; I'm creating this class from scratch. I enjoy the subject matter quite a bit, though, and I'm finding some good resources. The reviews from the students are positive so far, despite the class consisting of everyone from low-level freshmen to gifted seniors. Whoo boy, talk about differentiating expectations.
We started off with a unit on archetypes and tropes to compare creation myths across several cultures, then focused in on Egypt. They took that test today, and now we're diving into my comfortably familiar Greek territory.
4B is Drama 1. It was broken into two sections each semester last year, which I surprisingly didn't like. By putting them back together I have a relatively big group (32 kids vs. two groups of 15 or so), but I find the energy much healthier. When the kids are starting out, there's safety in numbers. They're far more willing to play and be silly and take the risks drama requires when there's a big group doing it. It's nice to have the type of beginner drama class I'm used to rather than the constant fighting for participation and focus last year's groups demanded.
Speech team practices are going on with our first meet coming up in two weeks. The kids are still largely in the hunting-for-pieces phase, but there's a lot of enthusiastic and pretty talented newbies to the team, which is nice to see. There was a bit of a lull the last few years (for instance, I'll only have one varsity senior next year. Weird!), so this gives me hope for the talent pool to deepen again.
And, naturally, I'm already planting the "you should try out for the musical!" seeds, especially with the boys. The kids are eager to hear what it is, but we're keeping it under wraps until the end of October. The secrecy creates so much good buzz that Jesse and I don't want to lose the good publicity.
And that's this term! Overall, a bit of a challenge but not really a new one. Just enough to keep me on my toes and to keep up the demand for my creativity on stage and in the classroom.
That's a talk I gave in church back in May, now published in this:
They run a Sabbath pastoral section for Sacrament meeting talks. I spoke on Mother's Day (yes, Mother's Day. That was a bit of salt in a wound), and immediately afterwards Fara approached me about getting the talk in the Exponent.
I was asked to speak about "The Divine Nature of Women." Since I was loathe to perpetuate the patronizing "women are such wonderful, angelic creatures" hyperbole, I flipped a couple of words around and spoke instead about Frye's theory of green spaces in Shakespeare and how that could relate to the biblical story of Hagar.
I was particularly curious to see what they would pick for pull quotes.
Look at that! Words I wrote are centered between two columns. Woot!
A month! My goodness, it's been a month. This school year is moving at an odd pace. The days each go quickly, but the weeks take forever. It's not a good thing to wake up thinking, "Friday at last!" only to recall that it's actually Tuesday.
School is going well. More than that, I'm enjoying my job again. That's due to what is probably the biggest news of the month, despite being so very small - I finally found a medication combination that works.
A little over a week into dosage/type adjustment no. 8, I suddenly realized that I felt happy. Moreover, I had felt happy for about three days at that point.
I don't know if I can explain how astounding that was. In the last three-plus years I couldn't honestly say that I felt happy or even just good. There was one moment, less than a second really, while on the ski lift to the Great Wall that I suddenly felt a flash of happiness. It came and went so quickly, but was so powerful I couldn't claim that it didn't exist. The realization that I maybe could feel happiness still and, moreover, what happiness actually felt like almost brought me to tears. It's like I had spent the last three years convincing myself that Twizzlers taste like real strawberries, then biting into a sweet, plump, beautifully ripe strawberry. It was so good it hurt.
Luckily, just at that moment Jason reminded me casually that we were dangling from a metal chair dozens of feet above wild Chinese forest. My need to tightly grip the side bar and to studiously avoid looking down overtook my teary gut response.
When I realized in August that the meds were working, I didn't say anything to anyone for a while. It felt too fragile, too delicate to risk upset by discussion. I didn't believe that the happiness would stay. It couldn't stay, could it? Three years of not feeling like myself; of finding Juliet's plea, "I long to die!" running through my mind; of this:
It's me watching a midnight showing of "Inside Out" with a bunch of students in New York and crying as quietly as I can so they don't realize their chaperone has tears streaming down her face because all I could think was that Joy wasn't temporarily lost in my memories. Joy was tied up and gagged in a closet somewhere and I had no idea if I'd ever get her back.
The really screwed up thing about depression is that it's in the mind. And I don't know about you, but my existence, my identity, my entire sense of self is very much in my mind. Which meant that a lot of the past eight months has been consumed not only by trying new meds and trying therapy and trying, trying, trying to get better; but also by constantly trying to believe that what I was feeling wasn't me. That it wasn't part of growing up or being single or being a terrible person or being who I deserve to be am. It's an illness.
If I had a broken bone I could point to it and say, "This splitery white thing sticking out of my leg with all the blood? It's not supposed to be that way. Let's fix it."
Depression is physical. It's caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. But it's really, really hard to believe that when it's not visible or tangible, when it's very existence inherently changes everything you thought you knew about yourself and the world.
Like Allie Bosch said in her incredibly accurate essay, "I gradually came to accept that maybe enjoyment was not a thing I got to feel anymore." Part of trying to get better was trying to believe that I could be better and that I deserved to be better.
This is all rather horrible, I realize, and I don't mean to bring you down. I just want to explain what life has been like for me so you could maybe understand how incredible it's been for the last month (MONTH!) to feel like myself again. I'm not happy all the time - that would also be a mental illness to worry about; but I feel life again. I care about things and look forward to things and take pleasure in things and I really, really like teaching again.*
And the fact that I can say that when I've been battling illness for the last three weeks tells you something. An illness that has been diagnosed by well-meaning yet unsolicited people as
A sinus infection
Communal pneumonia ("It's a new breed!" the convivial wee Germany lady said. "Everyone's got it!")
What you get when you teach for a living
Personally, I'm pretty sure it's bronchitis. I'm also pretty sure it's the fault of my adorable-yet-diseased two year old nephew.
The one thing on which all of those well-meaning people agreed was that I should go see a doctor. They are probably right, but I won't. If it's viral, there's nothing they can do. If it's bacterial, well, surely I'm almost over it at this point anyway, right? It's not like they can keep me from losing my voice at school or heal my bruised-from-coughing-so-much ribs or anything.** I'll just put my shoulder to the wheel and push along.
Besides, I've had enough of doctors for the time being. I'm ready to be well.
* I also learned by a rather close shave that it is not wise to make make major life decisions like moving or changing careers while depressed. Good grief, wait until you're back to normal before deciding that will fix everything.
** What's the saying? "Cobbler's children go barefoot and doctor's children die young?" Something like that. I'm pretty sure I read it in a L.M. Montgomery novel.