Monday, February 13, 2017

On Law, Love, and Blue Jeans

Good morning. Thank you for your kind words about Margaret. My plan today is to take you on a  short but - at least for me - emotional journey. You may find it ho-hum. 

So often what I'm teaching, or preparing to teach, is applicable to my life. I don't know if that's because it is actually the case, or because as an English major I was trained to stretch my mind & peek in corners & under rocks until an application, an overarching theme, a deeper meaning, etc. can be found, but regardless, some things fell together for me on Friday, & just in the nick of time too as I was approaching a fifteen on a zero to ten scale of When Will She Snap? 

Last week was fraught with frustrations & disappointments. I won't bore you with the details of it all. We're in the homestretch of this school year & I have a wonderfully clear picture of what I would like to happen in my classes before the end of April when I'll lower my tear-stained face & turn my head because I won't be able to stand watching the seniors walk out of my room for good. Every Monday morning, in my head, I have two things going on (well, more than that, but anyway . . . ). First, What do we need to accomplish this week? & (2) What do I need to have prepared by the end of this week (or weekend, usually) to be ready to go next week? 

I won't list for you all the goals that were not met last week, but, as an example, I'll tell you that I'd planned to have notes on the Neoclassical / Enlightenment Period of British history / literature typed up by mid-week, make a decision on what, if any, literature we'd read from that period, & then get started on the jewel in my crown, notes on the Romantic poets & Jane Austen. I stayed in my room during lunch every day. True, I usually only spend about ten minutes in the cafeteria as is, but I figured ten times five = fifty minutes, & I need those fifty minutes right now. By Friday I had managed to nail down the Neoclassical notes, but that was about it. 

If you didn't know this, you need to know that there's a one-hundred year span during which almost nothing interesting was written by anyone of British origin. There's Shakespeare, John Donne, & John Milton on the scene . . . & then, in my humble opinion, there's this horrible blah period known historically as the 1700s. We are zooming through that century with a brief nod to a couple of Enlightenment thinkers who, sure, helped give rise to the ideological underpinnings that spawned the French & American revolutions, & then we are moving on to a span of about thirty years during which British authors were absolutely on fire. Blake. Wordsworth. Coleridge. Byron. Shelley. Keats. A.U.S.T.E.N. Circa 1800, acceptable & praiseworthy forms of literature were plays & poems & sermons & essays. The novel was not so much a big thing. Female writers were not a thing. By 1820, Jane Austen & Mary Shelley had published some of the finest novels in the English language, gifting us not only with their words, but paving the way for the Bronte sisters & countless other women who would walk the trail they blazed. 

I spent all week trying to get some notes on all of the above typed, to decide which poems we're going to read, which poems best exemplify the ideals of the Romantic poets, & decide how exactly to convey to students Ms. Austen's indescribable contributions to the literate world. Every day I'd leave school having fallen short of my goal(s). I was getting the tedious things done: grading, typing up a quiz, running copies, etc., but making no headway on the larger things that eat up my weekends if I can't manage them during the workweek. I'd drive home tired & frustrated, determined to make more progress the following day. Haha. 

I should also tell you that for a couple of weeks now Reagan's been running some crazily high numbers. It's been going on for so long that it's not attributable to impending illness & it's not a fluke high here & there; she has grown & she needs permanent basal changes & I've been up more at night trying to sort all that out (up at night & pulling my hair out at all times) . . . so by the time Friday morning rolled around, I. was. done. 

I have these mythical days called Personal Days & if it were not for needing to give Reagan insulin for lunch & snack (coupled with my general unease when she's away from me), I'd have taken a Personal Day Friday. I mean I assume a Personal Day is what you call it when you have no specified illness but are struggling to form coherent thoughts & need to sit in bed & watch Gilmore Girls all day because you can't deal with life. 

Since there would be no Personal Day for me Friday, I drug myself out of bed & into the shower & I decided something had to go, something that takes up my time & eats up my energy had to go because I have too little of both right now. I had, once again, fallen asleep Thursday night after reading maybe two words of this month's book club book. Friday morning as I showered & put on my make-up & dried my hair I was writing a break-up letter to my book club in my head. I gave up on wearing much eye make-up because I was weepy. When I am tired, I rage or I cry. Or both. It's super fun. So I'm slapping on a little powder, drying my eyes, & going over & over in my head exactly how I'll tell the ladies in the book club I am bowing out. It's become a frustration to me because I cannot get the books read; it's a reminder of how strapped I am for time, & how frustrating it is to me that I cannot manage to read something for pleasure. I need to self-actualize, you know. It's why I write this blog, & it's one of the many reasons I've so faithfully read books & attended book club meetings for almost five years now. You have to tend your hierarchy, & I am so often wrestling with the physiological need for sleep it's a mere dream to reach those upper tiers. 

I drove to school talking to myself about not crying anymore because I've found it negatively impacts the classroom environment when the teacher's weeping over her coffee. I dropped the kids off at their classrooms. I trudged back to my room & sat down with my coffee. I will tell you that I needed a magical day on Friday, otherwise I was prepared to take drastic measures. I quit . . . book club, my job, adulthood, etc. Done, done, done. 

I don't know if I'd call it magical, but I had a good day Friday. The first face through my door was one of my favorites. I almost said, aloud, How did you know? Then, during first hour I was given an itinerary for this week, which is Teacher Appreciation Week, & on the top of that itinerary was a notice that teachers are free to wear blue jeans every day this week.

I left my room during second hour to refill my Yeti with coffee & was randomly offered a fresh cake doughnut by a student who passed me in the hall bearing a large box of doughnuts. Then, a gem of a young man brought a cookie cake that I, along with my fourth hour class, devoured (I don't accept bribes . . . I found him delightful before the cookie cake). 

Friday afternoon I got a little bit of work done. Progress was made. We should definitely push through the 1700s & well into the mid-eighteen hundreds this week. I'm considering inviting those who've read Pride & Prejudice &/or seen the Colin Firth miniseries to share their Austen testimony with their peers. Maybe we'll watch Sense & Sensibility because the Emma Thompson adaptation is flawless. Maybe we'll reenact the proposal scenes from Pride & Prejudice. I can't think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day than listening to disinterested teenage males utter, In vain have I struggled. It will not due. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. (AP, none of this applies to you . . . you'll be spending Valentine's Day taking your final Nineteen-Eighty Four quiz, because what says Mrs. Zeigler loves you more than analyzing a society whose founding principle is hate?)

Anyway, I have a friend from college who teaches Advanced Placement history at a high school in South Carolina. He is very serious about history & very serious about his teaching. He has a YouTube channel, though until Friday I'd never watched any of his videos. Friday afternoon I watched a fifteen minute clip of him explaining the shift from the Enlightenment to the Romantic Period. In the video he talks about the desire of the Romantic writers to rebel against the rigidity of the science & reason that were the focus of the Enlightenment Period, to turn inward rather than analyzing & attempting to fix society, to celebrate love & nature rather than the bloody revolutions spawned by the writings of John Locke & Voltaire, to revel in God's beauty rather than take pride in the smoke stacks that typified the Industrial Revolution. 

As I listened to his video I realized a major difference in the Enlightenment thinkers & the Romantic writers was their measure of success, their measure of progress. A day spent with a loved one, or a day spent in nature, or a day spent in thought was a successful day if you were William Wordsworth. Wordsworth may not have sparked revolution on a national scale, but his poetry still inspires readers to weigh the value of nature over a steam engine. And Wordsworth was enamored with the French Revolution, but he, along with his contemporaries, looked at the changes taking place in the world around him - technological changes, philosophical changes, political changes - & said,

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood, 
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude; 
And then my heart with pleasure fills, 
And dances with the daffodils 

I will never be happy or satisfied (or sane) as a teacher - or as a person or a mother - if I gauge my week solely on the number of essays graded, the notes types, the pages read. Why am I racing through the eighteenth century, stumbling over some (decent but not great) literature in order to reach Wordsworth & Byron & Keats & Austen? Because Wordsworth & Byron & Keats & Austen were captivated by the little things, by people & their smiles & idiosyncrasies. They were introverts, & I've always found in them a kindred spirit. They all would have slapped me Friday morning. They were whispering to me when the torrent of little things - seemingly minute things like a smiling young man wanting to let me know what he's reading or an announcement about blue jeans or a cake doughnut - slowly woke me from my fog of weepy self-pity. 

I also thought about the book of Hebrews on Friday afternoon. If the Enlightenment thinkers are the law - the push to think rationally, to get all the notes typed, to cross every t, to align the desks on each row before leaving for the weekend - then the Romantic writers are the love of Christ, poured into the gaps, the holes that reason cannot reach or fill.

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. (Hebrews 10:1) 

Reason, like law, can only take you so far. He is able to perfect us because He loves us; what He did for us & continues to do for us daily can only be explained by love because it defies reason. You cannot please Christ - or people - with reason alone, with laws, rules, & regulations. Where reason ends love must begin; I learned this first as a Christian, & then as a mother, & now as a teacher of some precious teenagers. You cannot fulfill students' needs with well organized notes; they need love, some of them more than others, but they all need to know they're more than a slot on the roster, that you want to see their smile in the morning - that it may, along with a blue jean announcement, be the unexpected surprise that turns the morning around - that you love them with or without cookie cake, & that if they need to sit & talk you are genuinely more than happy to type your notes later. 

Y'all have a great week. You'll be relieved to know I've tabled my dramatic plans to sever my ties with my book club. If you see me over the next few days, don't be frightened. I have the red, angry remains of last week's sadness & stress on the side of my nose in the form of, yes, another fever blister. I suppose I'd rather my body handle stress this way than say stomach ulcers or something, & since this one's not swelling my eye shut I suppose I'll grin & bear it (in my blue jeans, which helps).

I should note that you won't see me in my jeans today because I am at home with a sick Henry. Reagan's here too because between the time Henry vomited on me circa one am & this morning at five when I needed to make a decision about school I couldn't figure out how to get her to school, have someone there to dose her for lunch, & also stay home & hope Henry holds steady & pray there's no more vomit from anyone. So, we're all home in our pajamas today hoping to rejoin the living & have a fine Valentine's Day tomorrow. I'm not one to complain about a day in pajamas, but I could've worn jeans to school today. On a Monday. And they have coffee & muffins for us today. I'll be okay.

As I mentioned it is Teacher Appreciation Week (all week) & even if I'm not your teacher, or your child's teacher, feel free to lavish me in whatever ways you deem appropriate. I love coffee, Yankee candles, & warm hugs.

A Valentine, from me to you:


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