Once upon a time, there was a young woman who wasn't sure what to do with her life. She loved reading and writing, but she knew writing jobs were difficult to come by and jobs that paid one to read are even more rare. It occurred to her that she loved English and it made particular sense to her, so she decided to become a teacher.
After a year in a master's in teaching program, she got her first job teaching high school freshmen. As is typical, her first year was not the easiest but she had a great time and felt affirmed in her career choice. She had a supportive team of teachers helping her along and giving her advice. But then she had to move across the country and she could not find another school that had the same environment. She taught 8th grade for a year in a very cold and unsupportive environment (everyone was "on their own" with no help from the front office). She taught 7th grade in an amazing school with a wonderful team and terrific parents, but then was restructured out of the job and ended up taking another 7th grade job in a much more rural district with fewer resources.
When these three years had passed, her husband had finished his training in law and they moved to Chicago, where she stayed home to care for first one, then two young sons. Those five years were precious and amazing times in which she was able to slow down and really enjoy the time she had with her little ones.
Financial circumstances changed suddenly after this, and she found herself scrabbling to try to find another job. She found one as a part time teacher of middle and high schoolers at a very rural school, and her children were able to attend preschool at the same site, which made the separation easier.
The following year, she found what she thought would be her dream job: teaching high school English at a school devoted to the performing arts. She loved the students and the other teachers, but for some reason unknown to her, administration was not satisfied with her best efforts and she was not invited back for the following year. While she would have missed the first few months anyway (she was having her third baby over the summer), she was initially heartbroken to have to leave her students. They were invested in their art and motivated (for the most part) to do well in the rest of their classes so they could continue to attend the school. Before the end of the school year, however, it became evident that many teachers were unhappy with how the school was run and chose to leave it and teach elsewhere. She then realized that even if she had stayed, the school would have been very different with such high teacher turnover.
Now, the girl is at a crossroads. She has determined she will stay home probably for at least a few years while the newest baby is small, but she is uncertain whether she has enough courage to put herself out there to teach in a high school context again or if she will figure out a new line of employment. It was extremely discouraging to put her whole self into a job and still be told it was not good enough.
The girl knows she wants to be a writer, but it will be awhile before she will have consistent time to carve out a writing schedule. Until then it will be piecemeal at best since small babies do not follow a set schedule. So for now, she will do her best to give her new son the best start she can and shower her children with love and support.
Saturday, July 5, 2014
I realize that it has been inexcusably long since my last post, and for this I apologize and can only chalk it up to crazy life events. For any reader’s amusement, I was inspired at dinner tonight to answer the questions on my soda cup from Chipotle. Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Everything is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
Two-Minute Personality Test by Jonathan Safran Foer
What’s the kindest thing you almost did?
I’m not sure if this applies, but when I lived in Chicago I saw a man a few blocks from my house sitting against a tree near the street. He didn’t look like he felt particularly well. I tried to assess the situation by talking to him, but he did not speak very good English and was out of it enough to be slurring his speech. He asked for help, so I called the police non-emergency line on my cell phone and waited there until they arrived. When they did, they seemed rather rough in getting him to his feet, but it also seemed like they had seen him before so maybe it was more of an act or he was drunk. I felt at the time like this was the best I could do since I was very pregnant and was walking my older son in his stroller.
Is your fear of insomnia stronger than your fear of what awoke you?
This gets an “it depends” from me. Sometimes I wake up from a nightmare that seemed terrifying until I regain consciousness, and then I realize whatever seemed scary in the dream is now ridiculous. Like the dream I had last week when I had a high school friend living below me and she came up to tell me that I was watching TV too much and proceeded to try to stab me with a five-bladed Samurai sword. Luckily it was a retractable sword like they use in stage shows. In these sorts of cases I have no problem going back to sleep. Now if I have a real nightmare about something that could actually happen, sometimes it keeps me up for awhile, but usually I can overcome it and eventually go back to sleep.
Are bonsai cruel?
I hadn’t considered this before. I would have to do some research into how much we know about whether plants feel pain from being growth restricted. I used to have one for a time, but it died when I went on a long vacation once. It was beautiful. I have always loved tiny things, and this one had delicate jade green leaves and dainty pink flowers. I was very sad to see it had perished.
Do you love what you love, or just the feeling?
I believe I love what (and who) I love, not just the feeling. I am a thoughtful person and I enjoy putting as much of myself as possible into everything I do and everyone I care about. If I don’t feel like I am getting much out of an activity, I will move on and find something else on which to be spending my time.
Your earliest memories: do you look through your young eyes, or look at your young self?
Again, this depends. If it is a painful memory (an embarrassing or sad event), it’s hard for me to look at it as my grown-up self; I tend to revert back to the feelings as they were when they were more fresh. If it is just a run-of-the-mill sort of memory, I am much more likely to view it impartially through my current viewpoint.
Which feels worse: to know that there are people who do more with less talent, or that there are people with more talent?
I think the former is much worse than the latter. I am OK with people naturally possessing more talent in things than I do. That does not determine that they will be more successful than I will and I am not jealous of that. Now, that there are people with a higher drive that helps them to achieve more than I do, that grates on me. While I like to think I work hard, I always feel like I could work harder, particularly at my writing.
Do you walk on moving walkways? Should it make any difference that you knew it was wrong as you were doing it?
Yes. I actually went and looked up the rules on moving walkways at my local airport because I was fairly certain it was completely fine to walk on half of the moving walkway. Sure enough, the sign says “Walk on the left, stand on the right.” As far as I am aware, all other airports I’ve been in have followed this protocol and I follow the rules and walk on the left. Unless I have to go around someone who is directionally challenged and is standing on the left.
Would you trade actual intelligence for the perception of being smarter?
No. I would rather legitimately be smarter than to have other people see me as smarter. Public perception is less important to me than actual reality.
Why does it bother you when someone at the next table is having a conversation on a cell phone?
This is much easier to answer as “when does it bother you.” It bothers me when people are obviously ignoring whoever is joining them for a meal in favor of a caller or a text message or Facebook. Granted, I’ve been guilty of this in the past, but I have made a point in the past year or so to try and curb that habit. The reason it would bother me in general would be if they were having some sort of heated argument that they should probably be having in person and in private.
How many years of your life would you trade for the greatest month of your life?
This is tough. I’m not sure if I would knowingly sacrifice years with some moments/days of joy in favor of 30 consecutive happy days. I am a fairly happy person most of the time, so this doesn’t seem like a good trade to me.
What would you tell your father, if it were possible?
I would tell him I love him and I miss him, and if he needed it I would reassure him that I wasn’t angry that he had to leave me so early in my life. I feel like I absorbed his love and encouragement from the brief time we had together, and hopefully I have and will make him proud.
Which is changing faster, your body or your mind?
At the moment, I’d say my body is changing much faster than my mind. I’m still fairly young in the grand scheme of things, and in my ninth month of pregnancy the belly literally takes precedence in everything I do. When this child arrives I hope the body will still be changing faster than my mind until I regain some shape other than completely round.
Is it cruel to tell an old person his prognosis?
I feel that it is probably crueler to keep it from him. There are obviously ways to tell him that would be very cruel indeed, but I believe most people would probably rather know. I would, and I am not old yet. Once someone has reached older ages, he has probably already come to the realization that someday he may get a dire prognosis, and will hopefully take it well.
Are you in any way angry at your phone?
Actually, yes. My phone has had some issues with battery life over the last few months and will sometimes decide to turn off due to low battery when minutes before it registered 75% charged. That, to me, is not low battery. If I am not near a charger, it will not turn back on until I get to one and plug it in, reminding it that it has lost whatever a cell phone has instead of a mind.
When you pass a storefront, do you look at what’s inside, look at your reflection, or neither?
This depends on what kind of store it is and what I’m wearing. If it’s a store I like, I’m more likely to be looking at what’s in the store. If I’m wearing a new outfit, I may want to sneak a look at my reflection to see that I didn’t leave a tag on it and it looks OK.
Is there anything you would die for if no one could ever know you died for it?
Probably the same thing I’d die for for any reason, which is my family. I would protect them at any cost. I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do everything possible to keep my children and husband safe.
If you could be assured that money wouldn’t make you any small bit happier, would you still want more money?
No, I wouldn’t. Money is not something I’m particularly obsessed with; I feel like if I had more than I needed I’d be pretty generous with charities and such since I don’t see the value in being ostentatious.
What has been irrevocably spoiled for you?
This is a tough one. I guess the pure joy you have as a child eating junk food. I now am fully aware of what I’m doing when I indulge at a drive thru or with a bag of some fat-laden snack, and I can’t really escape the guilt for my poor choice. Not to mention the indigestion.
If your deepest secret became public, would you be forgiven?
I’d like to think so. I’ve been thinking about this, and I’m not even sure what I would classify as this secret, so I am not sure how to answer it. Perhaps whatever it is is so dark to me that I have repressed it.
Is your best friend your kindest friend?
Yes, he is. My husband is one of the kindest people I’ve ever known. He is supremely patient and understanding when I’m being moody and unreasonable, and will tell me the truth in a way that doesn’t often make me defensive. Even if it does, I realize even at that moment that while it is bothering me, he’s right. He is a treasure and I’m very lucky to have him.
Is it in any way cruel to give a dog a name?
I think this is only cruel if you give them a terrible name, like Stinky or Loser McAssnugget. Even then, the dog doesn’t understand what it means and will probably still come running with the same joy as if its name was Max or Lulu.
Is there anything you feel a need to confess?
Um. I’m a procrastinator, particularly on things I am insecure about. This is probably why I have several WIPs I’m studiously ignoring in favor of blog posts, knitting, and sleeping.
You know it’s a “murder of crows” and a “wake of buzzards,” but it’s a what of ravens, again?
I would have probably cheated and looked this up, but it is answered in a few more questions. I couldn’t remember if I had ever heard that one before.
What is it about death that you’re afraid of?
It’s probably a combination of a slight fear of the unknown and not knowing when it will happen. I just hope I have a chance to make a mark on the world, or at least my family, before my time is up.
How does it make you feel to know that it’s an “unkindness of ravens”?
I feel that this is unkind to ravens. They are beautiful birds and regardless of their reputations, this is an unfair categorization. Even a “cacophony of ravens” would be better, in my opinion.
Mr. Safran Foer, if you are searching people who answered these questions you asked on Chipotle cups nationwide, what are my results on your quiz?