Thursday, August 28, 2014

I Am Afraid


Up until today it was a bit like pretending. I was back on a college campus, once again living in a dormitory, once again surrounded by undergraduates, young men and women at the peak of their physical beauty and for the most part wholly oblivious to that fact. The feeling of being out of time was inescapable; I didn't belong here with these children, carefree and unaware that their world was so small, sheltered and buoyant and so very, very young.

Yet here I was. If they couldn't tell that I wasn't one of them, maybe it was time for me to forget, too. This afternoon that illusion was shattered.

I entered the classroom for my first graduate-level course and was greeted by an assembly of faces that were almost all older than mine. The professor thanked us for our time, thanked us for our attention, and said he understood the strain some of us must have been feeling from working during the day.

That's why all of the graduate classes are in the evening, I realized suddenly. It's because these people work.

The gulf between their world and mine was enormous, but I realized that in one moment it had been irrevocably bridged. I did not operate under the stresses these people did, but we were now, all of us, firmly in the realm of adulthood. No longer were we initiates--our professor spoke of "our industry" and "our careers" in a way that made the burden we were there to assume unmistakably clear. This wasn't schooling. It was vocational training.

That training will proceed more quickly than I  might be comfortable with, and all of us will be obliged this fall to participate in a practicum, on-site observations of local high schools in which we will appear as "educational professionals."

This brought up an immediate host of worries: what am I to wear? How am I to act? What if the students don't take me seriously? And how can I possibly stand at the head of a classroom and pretend to be an authority when so much of my own life is unresolved? I thought I would have become more secure by now. I never imagined how unsure and lost I'd actually be at twenty-six.

And there it is: I am twenty-six.

One of the hardest things I've had to come to terms with during this process is the fact that I'm not young anymore. Don't laugh. It's true. Sure, I'm young, but I'm not a kid, not a late adolescent whose audacious dreams are still within the realm of possibility.

As a boy of twenty-one I did absurd things, things like aspiring to a recording career and, what's more, achieving measurable success in pursuit of that goal. That sort of fantasy is, of course, closed to me now.

"You shouldn't say that, BB," Anne said. "Some famous musicians didn't get their big break until they were in middle age."

"That's true," I countered. "But it wouldn't be now what it would have been then."

"No," she said. "You had that whole Justin Bieber thing going on."

At twenty-one and twenty-two I was dewy and bright, a golden-voiced young boy who looked about sixteen. I was surrounded by numberless friends and built a vibrant social world whose center I occupied with undisguised relish. It was such a change from the years before, when illness had isolated me, that I felt like some sort of superhero. Invincible. Eternal. Beautiful. And a moment like that simply cannot last. A more durable happiness can be achieved, and hopefully will be, but it will take me years to do it, and in the meantime I'm left moving forward from a past that makes me feel so degraded.

Even this institution conspires to align itself with that perception. It is smaller than Major University; its food is less varied and less nutritional; its buildings are older; its students, born and bred in this poor mountain community, are less attractive; its professors are less regarded. It is a seismic step down that has at moments left me stunned.

Where are all the people? I wondered time and again on my first day. There were more students in our food court than there are on this entire campus.

It's hard for me to rid myself of the notion that everything is less than what it was. That I am less than I was. The weight gain that followed my suicide attempt has only amplified these thoughts: I do not look significantly different now than I did then, but I am still substantially less attractive. In decline. Decayed.

That decay, physical and social and moral, is something I am working desperately to reverse. I'm losing weight. I'm befriending anyone I can. I have, most importantly, a career path in mind and am adamant in my refusal to veer from it.

Here's the thing: I can handle taking a detour in order to accomplish bigger professional goals, but I cannot handle settling into a life I don't really want. I have no particular desire to teach high school. But because I need to pay my bills while I'm seeking the bachelor's and master's degrees in history that will allow me to become a university professor, I am willing to do it. On the sole condition that I immediately begin pursuing my history education once I commence secondary teaching. That's the only way it would be bearable.

And I am so terrified I'll fail. That the dream of a professorship will be the fairytale I use to lull myself to sleep at night, until one day in middle age I wake up and realize it's an ambition I'll never achieve.
If it is at all within my power to reach the benchmarks I've set for myself, I will do it. I will exert all of my energies towards that end.

And in the meantime I'll try to figure out who I am and what kind of fulfillment I can find as grown-up BB. I'm so horribly lonely sometimes. And I'm so scared of growing into a lonely, sad adult. All of it is new and frightening. I can only hope it will end well.

6 comments:

Jay M. said...

BB,
I saw your post. I want to come back to it since I must go to bed in anticipation of a 6 hour drive to Mountain State tomorrow for a reunion and re-commitment ceremony that I am the Man of Honor in. Please allow me to come back and properly comment. I scanned your post, and know how you feel, but perhaps from another viewpoint.
Thank you in advance.

Peace <3
Jay

naturgesetz said...

Hang in there.

Part of what you're feeling right now may be akin to "buyer's remorse," where after a major purchase, the buyers begin to question the wisdom of their decision. But you had your reasons for your decision, and they certainly sounded like good ones. At this point, I think your jitters are normal, but not something that you should let shake you too much as you go day to day through your program.

You write, "And how can I possibly stand at the head of a classroom and pretend to be an authority when so much of my own life is unresolved? I thought I would have become more secure by now. I never imagined how unsure and lost I'd actually be at twenty-six." We feel our own doubts and insecurities. We don't see other people's unless they tell us or fall apart. You don't have to have your life resolved to teach a subject to high schoolers. All you need is to know the subject. A good lesson plan helps.

I think I've said before that very few people, if any, have their life go exactly as they've planned. Some get the career they were seeking, some don't. Some who end up in different careers are happy with how things turned out, some aren't. For all of them, there are unplanned events that change the course of their lives.

I believe that we can make ourselves miserable if we dwell on disappointments to the point of being unable to see the good that is also part of our lives at any given point.

There was a movie titled "Mr. Holland's Opus" about a man who hoped to be a great composer, and taught high school for years to pay the bills. When he came to retire,he realized that the people he taught were his Opus, and it had all been worthwhile.

I'm certainly not saying that you won't become a university professor of history. You are taking well-considered steps in that direction, and there is no reason to think that it won't happen. I'm just saying that you shouldn't worry too much about the possibility that your life will turn out differently, because you can still do well, be happy, and have a good life. See Matthew 6:25-34

I think it was Mark Twain who said, "My life has been a series of disasters, most of which never happened." Keep calm and carry on. You'll be fine.

rjjs8878 said...

None of the students you will stand in front of will know that so much of your life is unresolved. It will be your secret. They will see a guy who completed his education and is now employed.

dawn marie giegerich said...

Love the picture, so cathedral-like, all golden and light.

Angel The Alien said...

Dude, I am more than 5 years older than you, and I could be saying those same words. I got my teaching degree when I was the big 3-0, and even now I feel like I'm getting way too old... I always thought, by the time I was in my thirties, I'd have a home, several children, and possibly some backyard chickens. Instead I'm still searching for my first teaching job, while also realizing that my life and my past, is kind of a hot mess.
My advice to you is this. For one thing, high school kids are usually bored, and they will be glad to listen to you because it is a nice change of pace. They may also think you are cool because you are a lot younger than the teachers they're used to. Plus, you'll be good for high schoolers BECAUSE of what you've been through. You don't have to tell them your life story, but it will help that you'll be able to empathize with kids who are having a rough time in life.
What should you wear? Harry Wong (author of The First Days Of School) would advise you to wear a suit and tie every day. I would advise you to just wear some nice pants and a button down shirt, or a sweater or something.
You can certainly become a professor if you want to. It is an achievable dream. You should definitely start working on it as soon as you can.
Your last paragraph, about being horribly lonely, and being afraid of becoming a lonely, sad adult, brought tears to my eyes, because I often say the same thing. I don't really know what to tell you there, because I am not sure what to tell myself. Sometimes it is hard for me to make connections with others in real life, which is why I love having a blog. But we will both be okay, right?

Arizaphale said...

So much to say here. You could be my younger self speaking. One thing I will share is something a counsellor once told me: You think you're old now? When you're 60 you'll look back on how good you looked when you were 40! The best thing ANY of us (and that includes so called 'successful, beautiful' people) can know is that we will never look better than we have the potential to do now. By all means work on your weight (and your health) but remember that professorships are not won on looks :-). Judge Judy's autobiography was a contraction of her father's advice :Beauty fades. Dumb is forever.
Whilst I don't fully agree with the latter part of this aphorism, its truth is evident. Place all value in outward appearance at your peril. I'm sure you know this.

As far as the teaching goes, being a teacher myself I can say this: the most important thing about teaching is relationship.Do not think that teaching is all about putting yourself up there as 'an authority'. All you can offer those kids is a whole lot more life experience than they have. You can introduce them to the things that have inspired you and by communicating, inspire them. Of course they will not take you seriously. Didn't you observe a new teacher enter with a big question mark over them? Who is this guy? What has he got to offer? Will he like me?....
Now YOU are able to offer the acceptance and understanding that you once valued in your teachers. It certainly helps if you know your content, and can find varied and motivational ways to deliver it....but start with relationship. Imagine how you would feel as a teenager, if your teacher was using you as a stepping stone to his own college career? How resentful would that make you feel? I'm sure you wouldn't do that but I feel it's important to step into the classroom with the right motivation. It can be a dangerous place (LOL).

As I said before, you remind me so much of my younger self, and it is good to be recording these things here. Whatever comes next, enjoy the journey. Another classic email crappy quote that rocked my world was 'Happiness is a journey, not a destination'. You can regard this next few years as a necessary grind or you can embrace the opportunities it offers. And there will be opportunities. There will be people, good people, when you least expect them and experiences that you will treasure in the same way that you treasured that stuff as an undergrad. Life is a series of chapters and every chapter has its highs and lows. If nothing else there'll be good blog fodder :-D
My mantra nowadays is: Today is a gift. That's why it's called The Present! (yup I am cliche girl today).
With ya BB
x