Chimera Song Mosaic
Wednesday, February 11, 2004
There are men outside my window leaning out of windows, stalking through wooden house skeletons on stilts, on stilts and ladders with white putty hands and smooth aluminum flippers. This is the fourth time this month I have answered the door in the afternoon wearing only a light cotton nightgown, the same man, the same UPS man or FedEx man, who has seen me, has brought packages to our door of things bought all in a flush of want of recognition that we live here, that someone lives here in this new clay hole of development.
I cried myself to sleep before my nap. That's all, just cried. Why? Because of the front impending. The I-am-glad-to-be-here-are-you-ready-for-your-future-? teacher-front. If I could just grade these last 11 essays, something would happen--not something good, necessarily, but something. That and the sudden realization, after reading so many first year composition essays, that I am just like them, or better, that I should have been just like them. Many of my students waited for years after high school before beginning college, and this their second attempt. I just read the most uplifting one, "I took the road less traveled . . ." about a girl who was all set to go away to college--best girlfriend, classes paid for, everything--when she gave it all up for suspicious second pass and a pair of depthful eyes at the drive in--a second look that reminded me (mildly educated as I am) of Connie's fateful bump into Arnold Friend in "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?" This story is supposed to end badly, but doesn't. Instead, she has been happily married for eight years, has two kids, and has returned to college (my class, this time) "recommitted, fastened to the wall / like a bathroom plunger . . ." and says she feels more confident in her ability to succeed, more sure of her academic path, than ever before. And that's what I didn't have in college.
We all talk about how hard it is for the returning students--their jobs, their families, their lives--but the ones I see floundering are the ones who are doing what they are supposed to do, fresh out of high school ("I was born on a sunny day in Mission, Texas, on March 6, 1984"). Everything startles them--assignments, due dates, standards--and they so sweetly and innocently believe the lie that someone told them about how you really only have to attend classes every so often. These young kids have not yet figured out how to listen to themselves, they are so busy listening to their well-meaning parents, who pain them with their disapprovals and constant mantra: "I only want you to have better than what I had." The older ones have insight, experience, advantage.
I did not even take the classes I teach. I placed out of them. No one ever asked me when I first knew I was going to college (my first assignment for them). I'd have a story for that instructor. Or let's just start in graduate school: I was poorly advised, or I didn't know how to request what was best for me. I didn't even read all the books assigned in my seminars. I tried to write every 20-page essay the day before it was due. I was never picked for anything: no TA, no cushy faculty housesitting, pet-watching summer jobs, no awards, no publications, no recognition, no invitations. I felt somewhat consoled when I met a kindred spirit--or at least a spirit in the same situation--and was somewhat placated by the time I left that place. And now, out of almost everyone, I am the one who ends up the teacher. This is not meant to be read as ironic; it is not ironic; it is conclusive. My students with the weakest skills always want to become teachers.
It's very obvious that I must get out of teaching. I feel way too much for it--and I'm not saying that I feel too much for my students, which I probably do, but it's not that--I have become them. And not even the older, brightly motivated ones.
It occurs to me that this level of self-pity is, of course, ridiculous. But I can't breathe right now; I have what seems to be a hard disc of phlegm in the back of my throat, rattling. It's from allergy medication, nose spray that just can't keep up with my body's efforts to purge itself. I wake up, or I just sit here, and I find myself drowning. I wish I were drowning in a poem.
Colleen called while I was taking a nap and left a message; she sounded good and wants to talk to me. But I can't call her back right now--it's just unfair to call an old friend when you're in a mood like this. They want to hear the good news. But Colleen has been through so much bad in the past couple of years that even more so I want to report good news to her. She asked, "How are you doing?" on her message, but she sounded unsure about it, like maybe I wasn't doing that well after all. I look around at my brand new house with beautiful, high ceilings painted a lovely tan color (Desert Fawn, which reminds me of George Bush, and I frown), and what can I say but that I am doing fabulous? But what if I got pregnant and had that to report? Another failure. Pregnant just doesn't sit with my friends; none of them are pregnant; none of them have babies. What a condition of nostalgia! I would hate to have Garcia Marquez, along with everyone else, laughing at me.
There are some things that I now realize I can't even say in this blog. This is not, after all, a diary. Not quite. If I have to apologize upfront for being manipulative, then that's a problem, isn't it?
The good news is that my little old pond is back in the ground after some dry time on the patio and blowing around the yard. It is full of water, and the only thing else is my Panama Pacific water lily, almost shrunk to nothing from the shock of sitting in a tiny tub in the shade for months, now with eight or so very small leaves, which I count every day, but I can't recall the previous day's accounting. I do hope he recovers. Also, we have made plans for the surgical nude spots the lawn, the future stages for our dramatic show of paradise flowers--a Hong Kong orchid tree, a purple orchid tree, some dwarf gardenias, some weeping mulberries. I want to grow something. I am anxiously awaiting the news of more seed packets from Nicole's garden. Nicole is an instructor, too, from what I can gather, although this was not the obvious conclusion for her, I don't think. I do hope the Burrow Owl returns.