(Im)practicality

“It was another time, he says, picking up again.
We were pioneers. Will you fight to stay alive here, riding the earth
Toward God-knows-where?” + Tracy K. Smith

I have been doing a lot of thinking lately. Thinking about my future. Thinking about what  people expect of me. Thinking about giant ideas and miniature details, the stuff of life that we often gloss over. What it means to be passionate and forever in pursuit, and never giving up despite all the hardship and how steep the climb up the mountain is. What it means when we tell young adults and children to step back and be quiet, when we teach them the opposite in the classroom with literature and a review of history. What it means to be selfish, and what it means to have had enough.

In case you didn’t know, I think a lot.

Just this past week I decided I was done. Done with education, done with the hypocrisy. When I retweeted two links on Twitter — one about growing up as the villain that SFF portrayed, the other about sexual harassment in the SFF writing industry and forgiveness — and lost two education followers, one a teacher/administrator here in Rhode Island, my real world response was, “Wait. Is that really offensive? I can retweet lesson ideas and quotes on digital learning, but the second I delve deep into the dark heart of humanity, which is what what we do in the classroom is supposed to be about, I am not okay?”

What right do we think we have when we establish a rule of going ahead and touching a student’s most precious property, their mind and spirit, if we refuse to acknowledge that what happens in the classroom should not be insulated from what is happening, what has happened, in the world we all live in?

Whenever I hear somebody say how amazing it is to be able to mold young peoples’ minds, I want to throw up. I know that there is discussion on choices we make as teachers now, and it has been a topic in my classes for which I am grateful for, but I think more needs to be done and said and just outright admitted.

That is just one of the reasons I’ve made the decision to step away from pursuing a MAT, and instead am applying to my college’s MA English program with a concentration in creative writing. There are a multitude of factors, but the anger that night, the realization that no matter how much we talk about the disconnect between the classroom and the outside world, no matter how much I want to teach a unit on how literature can reinforce oppression or provide freedom (an exercise we did in one of my classes asked us to define our dream unit with an essential question; that was mine), there will still be school districts threatening to suspend kids for protesting what they believe is wrong and who need more of an answer than a back and forth between meme-slinging adults despite them living in a state that threatened to secede from the United States because they believed what was happening in our country was wrong; curriculums that neglect the poor, the tired, the weary, the unable; and administrations that believe socioemotional qualities can and should be measured and tracked. Among other problems.

It’s a little like N.K. Jemisin writes… “That’s how *real* power dynamics works: get ’em young, or make ’em vulnerable somehow. Get ’em invested in the system, and silence the ones who don’t buy in. Get ’em believing that the system will save them.

‘Then they’ll break themselves trying for what they’ll never achieve.’

No man made system is perfect, but I don’t want to sign up to deny everything I believe in for the sake of having a steady income.

***

The few people I’ve informed of my decision have either been excited for me or borderline argumentative. I relate to Jessica Andrews when she writes, “It was an embarrassing decision, because I couldn’t afford it, because it wasn’t vocational, because, as a family friend said: ‘We all know you want to write, but what exactly are you going to do?’” One woman today at work, a former teacher, kept repeating that I could still write and teach, that teaching was guaranteed income.

“Yes, I know. The practicality of becoming a teacher is why I initially enrolled, but I realize now it may have been a mistake.” “Oh, I didn’t say you should because of practicality! It’s just that you could do it for a little while then go off and do what you want.” Right. Because teaching children and young adults is a job that you can just discard after three years or so because eh, don’t feel like it anymore, who cares.

I don’t believe that.

Students are not dollar bills. They are people. Flesh and blood. Prone to anger and hatred and love and all the same ugly, beautiful, strange emotions as we are. Full of ideas and words and stories.

I was not 100% committed, and I knew it from the start. I wanted to play it safe. I wanted to impress people. I wanted to finally grow up and just commit to something already, will you? 

“What are you going to do with that?”

***

I’m working on a story right now, for a workshop, but it won’t end after the workshop is over. It follows a young woman named Nemea. She is a Veyor (a shortened term for surveyor), somebody with the ability to witness events as they happen through a ‘mind gaze.’ Encircling her left wrist is a scar in the likeness of a braid called a bloodcrest. It is more a brand than anything else, linked to her ability and claiming her as property to her people as little more than a useful spy; her blood heritage is all that really protects her after she runs from home. Nemea knows there is more to life than witnessing and partaking in the violent exile of disobedient members of the empire (still working on that), but the immediate need for control is more important right now, even as guilt surges forth.

She is, for the time being, selfish. But as another character, Rv’ll, one of the exiles, says, “To be nameless is worse than a thousand deaths.”

I’m caught by the idea of namelessness. Not being able to own your own name, your own person. The desperate need for control and what that does to us, and what it means when somebody has that control over everything we say and do, and when we don’t know any better because it is all we’ve known our entire lives. Not being truly in charge of our decisions, but somehow being implicated in that decision — to be nameless, powerless. The contradiction and unfairness of that existence.

Where Nemea is going scares me — the transition she is going to make may never be undone — and I think it’s because I’m changing, too. I’m working a lot out through writing this story, even though I’ve barely started.

But I’m also incredibly excited. It’s like going on an adventure. I feel ‘lit up,’ if that even makes sense.

For the first time, I don’t mind if people think I’m impractical, an idiot wasting her money and time, naive, a failure. I don’t care if I’m not living up to everybody’s expectations for the ‘nice, lovely Briggs girl.’ I want to be more than everybody’s ideas — I want to simply be myself.

I only have one life, and I’m twenty eight years in already. There’s only so many left. When the pioneers went out west, they didn’t know what they were getting into, either. They only knew they needed to find home.

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