Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Garret for Reflections

Dear Friends,

Baltimore City Teaching Residency didn't lie when they said Institute would take up every inch of my time.  I have never worked so hard only to find out that I have oceans left to learn.  I turned in the final paper a week ago, right now.  I have since moved into my apartment, cleaned more dust traps than I've ever seen (and I lived above a frat), I've found a solid teak folding chair, had a dinner party, and organized my wardrobe.

I would like to give you a long, involved description of my time at Institute, but I think vignettes are better than overarching statements, and since I didn't track many of them as the summer passed (I was too busy writing lesson plans), I will start backwards and see what moments come.

In my little attic bedroom, I have the bed tucked into a nook.  It's a U-shaped room.  I, like Thomas Jefferson, can get to either side of my room from the comfort of my bed.  I don't think this room would meet his specs for natural light, but it does have gables.  Cars are crashing through puddles out one window; the air conditioner is chugging away, happy to be clean, in the other.

My right thumb hurts.  It's a dull ache, but when I type with it, it's sharp.  At 9:57 this evening, my dryer nearly killed me.  I've spent the last six weeks working 16 hour days, driving for sometimes three hours a day on no sleep, and hanging out with my grandmother in her smoke-filled house three afternoons a week... and it's my dryer that nearly kills me.  I couldn't find the lint trap, but I'd only done one load -- one more couldn't hurt, right?  So I popped in my clothes.  There was a faint burning smell.  After a while, I stopped the dryer.  I still couldn't find the lint trap.  I started it up again.  Sparks began shooting from the panel with all the dials.

So, I did the logical thing: I pulled the panel off.  Flames started coming off the back of the dial -- it looked like a tiny motor.  What was feeding this fire, you ask?  The entire chamber beneath the dryer -- the dryer is the top half of a stackable set -- was full of lint.  The lint was packed in so tightly it was difficult to see the chamber where the clothes went.

So, I did the logical thing: I started pulling the lint away from the flames.  But what, besides lint, do we leave in our pockets?  We leave change.  Quarters, to be precise.  There were, as it turned out, enough quarters in this mystery box to pay for my laundry for a month.  As I grabbed at the lint around the dial (and I did not have the presence of mind to get gloves), I touched one of these quarters.  This one happened to be fused, completely melted, to the flaming dial.  It was weird and flaky in texture, but that's about all a remember of it.  My whole arm began to tingle and I lost my vision.  Heat leapt up my fingers and into my chest.  I wanted to pull the quarter away, but all I could think about was getting away from the intense heat.  (Usually, I reserve descriptions like this for my romance novel.)  I stumbled.  I hit the tub.  I hit my head on the tub.  I was awake, dully awake, moving slowly, maybe not; the flames were bigger now, getting to more of the lint.  Into the kitchen I fumbled, filled the antique pitcher my mom gave me as a housewarming gift in Texas, pulled the trash can into the bathroom, brushed the lint inferno into the trash can -- it doesn't burn you if you don't touch it long enough, right? -- and tossed the water onto the flames.

Then, my hand began to hurt.  Delayed reactions are strange beasts.

But there was so much more lint -- and I had to unplug the dryer, right, or the blown wiring would do something crazy?  So, I did the logical thing.  In a fog, I reached into the chamber and swept out as much of the lint as I could.  Good thing lint clings to itself.  When I had enough of it to see the edge of the cylinder where the clothes tumble, it occurred to me that the whole thing might start moving ... and I was unprepared to deal with that so long as my hands were scrabbling around inside for lint.

Oddly enough, it was a week ago at 10:15 -- which is about when all of this ended -- that I turned in my final work product for Institute.  (Can anybody feel the metaphor coming?)

I can't do justice, here, to the pleasure I got from explaining proper use of evidence by the transitive property.  I don't have time to give you the details of the essay John wrote, or the mini-lesson Nigel gave, or to scan in the final work Divan gave me, in a neatly stapled packet, two days before the end of class.  I wish I had written down entries here every time Ephyera wrote a note in her notebook and then didn't use said notes in the question I asked her afterwards, if only because it would help you understand my joy when she used her word lists to paraphrase Sonnet 18 on the final day.  I wish I had cataloged the lesson my grandfather gave me, over breakfast one day, on "Using the Right Tool."  (It was the red knife for brick cheese.)  I wish I had written after my first (good) evaluation and again after my second (bad) evaluation, or tracked the development of the incredible friends I've found here.  Two months ago, I told a person quite dear to me that "It's strange to think: in two months, I will have met people that will be an inextricable part of my life... for the rest of it."  He said, "How do you know?" And I said, "How can they not?  Look what we're about to do together."  We did it together.  Some of them showed up for Kings, BS, steak, and warmed my house.

I wish I had told you all of those things and more as they happened.  It would make this moment better.

My hand hurts.  My head hurts where I hit it.  But there was a fire in my dryer and I was prepared.  I didn't have a panic attack; I hit my head and I got back up; there was an endless amount of fodder for more fire -- so I pulled it out.  I found the source of the flames.  Nothing went up in smoke.  It was hard, and I hurt, and there are risks to what happened in my apartment tonight.  There are some pretty glaring things wrong with what I did -- any boy scout will tell you that.  But I did it, the apartment is fine, my clothes didn't burn, and the dryer is actually cleaner than it was.  We know what the problem is.

So, too, do I enter the year: things will be glaringly wrong with what I do, but I can reach into the fire, pull out the lint, fill the pitcher with water, and through all the crises, burns, and head wounds, the dryer will be cleaner.  My students will be more prepared for the world when they leave me, and I will learn how to do that better -- as long as I keep pulling at the lint.  There will be risks.  I will lose a lot.  I will get burned.  But I can put the fires out.

That was cheesy, but it felt real, so I'm going to embrace the cheese.  I feel good; I can do this.  I will never work harder than I did during Institute... until I start teaching.  (What am I talking about?  I'm always teaching!  It's my life!  How great is that?)

There are more metaphors here: clean the lint steadily, there won't be a crisis, etc; but the one that matters is this:

inaction is not the answer.

Thanks, BCTR.

1 comment:

  1. It is good to read you again, and good to know that you have survived challenges of various sorts. I look forward to reading more of your adventures in EdLand. Your students are lucky to be getting you. Most will not appreciate you until later. Some will not appreciate you at all. But I expect that all will learn from you as you will learn from them.