I have a friend who refuses to make resolutions. I’m not really clear about the why of that – something about not keeping them anyhow. She makes ‘determinations’. Again, I’m not really clear, this time about the difference between a resolution and a determination. But I do like the sound of ‘determinations’ better. So this year’s determination is to be more resolute (haha) about consistently writing, particularly here on The Book Bowery. I’m hoping to be able to get a post in per week of school, especially about life in the classroom. Today’s bit of blather will be just that – yaddering.
This week was our first week back to work after a luxurious Christmas break. Some words to describe it: frantic, frenetic, frenzied, furious. And I expect it will feel like a leisurely stroll compared to the two weeks coming up (a major school production, finals, semester end and report cards, and then second semester start up). I keep pretty regular hours at school: 7:45ish am to 5:30ish pm – about ten hours a day. And even with that I usually need another three or four hours on the weekend to stay on top of everything. That’s about fifty three or four hours a week. After two weeks of sleeping ten hours a day (I kid you not!) this pace was wrecking.
However I made it to the weekend – just in time to catch my whole famn damily coming up for our annual January (because it’s so much easier to schedule than December) Christmas. This year twenty four folk flocked together for laughing and fun and general tom foolery – way too much food, a couple of movies, Monopoly, snacking, floor hockey, toboganning, hot tubbing, more food, gift exchange, visits with great-grandparents, long chats over tea after dark, noshing, book talking, dish washing and table setting, experiments with chocolate wine…. We skyped in three more here and there, and that only left three missed altogether. Not bad. But it meant that after a week of absolute sprinting at school there was a whole weekend of sprinting – cooking and cleaning and hauling and planning and hosting. All of which I love, but which take their toll in terms of energy output. *pant pant wheeze*
Add to this the winter flu season (a curse on viruses everywhere!): I am one minute thinking I’m inviable and going to simply die of it period; the next thinking I’m inviolable and cannot be taken down! My poor lump of personal cellular mass is at odds with itself currently over the matter and hasn’t quite reconciled itself to either health or unhealth.
So, I am pooped. I may or may not remember everything I did last week at school. But here’s what stands out to me at this point in time:
I remember C. C sits at about 11:00 from my perspective at the front of the room. Hair dyed jet black tumbles over one side of her scalp, tangling by the time it falls over her shoulders and down her back; on the other side of her head black stubble with sometimes pink fringes pokes up from her scalp like a mown field of burnt hay. Some days she does her make up in just a way that makes her look soft and pretty, but other days she sets herself up to appear far more dangerous than she actually is, or ever could be. Her eyes are her most communicative resource, not being a person given to many words.
The class is sitting in a circle. Each student has spent a few minutes jotting a few notes about how they might change the world in preparation for a one minute soapbox moment. We go around the circle and when we come to C. she doesn’t want to stand up, doesn’t want to talk, doesn’t want to get vulnerable in front of the class. C. has won this battle most of her life, I suspect, and defaults to “I don’t talk in class”. This whole semester we’ve done not much more than battle over whether or not it’s worth the risk: to talk in class and overcome her debilitating insecurity about it (I’d call it shyness but she has friends with whom she can be quite, er, loud.) or to not talk in class and remain entrenched in public silence. And fear. Once C. came to me after school, when no one was around, and asked if I would help her overcome her shyness. She has trouble putting her thoughts into words. She needs quite a bit of time to formulate her ideas and pull together something that communicates what she is feeling. Her difficulty is really not a simple hurdle – there are factors working against her. But she asked for help, and I agreed on the condition that she not fight with me in class.
Finally C. throws a few scowls at me with her angry eyes and stands up.
“C., how are you planning to change the world into a better place?”
C.shrugs. We repeat a variation of this sequence two or three times. The class is awesome. They wait in courteous silence. Many of them are familiar with me and know how this is going to go down. One whispers to C., “Just say something. She won’t give up.”
I speak up again. “Pardon me, C.? I missed what you said.” And I raise my eyebrows, lower my chin and level my gaze at her. She meets my gaze (the girl is unwavering on the outside, but I know she’s malleable on the inside.) and moves her lips. I can’t hear what she’s said. “I’m sorry, C. Just a little louder.”
“I don’t know.”
I smile brightly. “Thanks so much for letting us know, C. Very brave! We live to serve, don’t we class? Let’s get some ideas moving for C.” We do a little brainstorm and move on to the next student, B.
B. is a whole other kind of fish. B. works just as hard as C. to keep everyone at arm’s length, and on the inside she’s just as eager for help and acceptance as C., but she is far far far more practised at resisting authority and pressure to conform. B. and I have not had as many interactions as C. and I. Nor has B. at any point admitted to wanting help or needing it. She can get a mad-on face faster and more menacing than anyone nearly ever. This girl could intimidate super-heroes! It’s her No. 1 Superpower.
“B., stand up and tell us for one minute how you’d like to change the world.” B. shakes her head, sends me a look from the pit of Hades, and looks away not daring to meet my eyes for more than a nanosecond. I poke and prod, encourage and insist. Nope nope nope. Not. Going. To. Budge.
Rule #I don’t know what: do not throw away energy on a fruitless endeavor. The class is too vulnerable to watch such ridiculousness and the universe is winding down even as you carry on and you just gotta know when you’re beat.
“Okay, B., let’s talk about that after class.” And we moved on.
Fast forward to the next day: we are sitting in the student lounge supervising over the noon hour. There is the usual mayhem going on – kids banging on the tables (some kind of game with the palms of their hands, a race to I don’t know – bruise themselves?) and laughing hysterically at the pop bottles bouncing onto the floor; kids slouched on the couches texting or playing games on iPads; kids strumming guitars in the corner, all melancholy and morose; kids calling around, “Are there any bowls left for soup?” I’m sitting at a round table with a pile of binders stacked in front of me, chatting with a girl about her drama class, when C. walks in.
I call her over. She rolls her eyes (her usual response to me) but comes right over. “Hey C., I wanted to ask you something.”
“Mhmm.” This is more of a statement than a question. I interpret this to mean, “Okay, well, I got stuff waiting so ask already!”
“Did you notice, yesterday in class, that you were not the most shy or quiet person in the room?”
Her face slowly transforms, like the sun rising in the east. That’s not an exaggeration either (well, maybe a bit, okay) because it was a slow dawning. Like a frame by frame video her eyebrows went up, a smile reached upward, the colour in her cheeks deepened! She nodded, grinning by now. So was I.
“When was the last time you weren’t the most shy person, C.?”
“Never? That was the first time ever you talked and someone else couldn’t?” She nodded, her black hair bobbing about. I put up my palm to high-five her; she reached over and whacked my hand. “Congratulations, C.! How does that feel?”
“Good.” By now she’s almost looking excited, almost like a new person. Just a teeny transformation, a little bitty shift, can change everything. I have high hopes.
And as for B., she came after class to chat, or rather to endure my chatting, and left having still not said a word. Then she missed three days of class. I caught up to her on the last day of the week. Tracked her down in another of her classes on my prep to ask if she was alright: sick? or just avoiding me?
She peeked at me from behind silky sometimes blonde hair, “Sick.”
We smiled at each other quietly for a full moment, just to absorb the pleasantness of that second. “I’m glad you’re back.”
She asked what she missed and I explained about the assignment: “You’re going to be working on a speech, B. I made this assignment just for you and C., to give you two in particular another chance to get some speaking marks in class. I have a plan, for making this easier….” and we chatted.
It was good. Alright, I mean, because every single person on the planet is a work in progress. We just have to make determinations to capture the teensy little pokes of light that shine through when they do. If we can draw enough attention to every little shining moment then maybe altogether we can change the world into a better place for each one of us.