Ms. Barker here, popping in to say hello at the close of another summer. I feel like it was June, and then I turned around and it was August already. And now August is threadbare and just about done. I look around me and for the first time, I realize I’ve made a habit of collecting objects from my summer: the Italian soap that my mother’s best friend used (and I began to use this summer in July) which makes me think of her, the pine cones I collected from Nebraska in June which now sit on my mantlepiece, the tin of coffee I found in an Omaha natural food store in May. A lone pinecone lies a few feet to the right of the Nebraska artifacts. It’s from Rabun Gap, Georgia. I’ve never been one for souvenirs, but this summer I made a habit of gathering objects in moments of sweetness, moments I’ve had to accept as transient, but nonetheless, reminders I want to crowd around me in my home, because I am training myself to look for the sweetness and the joy. I find myself gathering mementos and commemorating sensations attached to my experiences. And I am particularly drawn to pictures, like the ones in this book.
I experienced loss this summer, and I suppose the moments of kindness and beauty are all that sweeter. I am noticing these days when people share memories, and how sometimes those memories are mechanisms for soothing and parenting ourselves instead of wallowing or anchoring ourselves to the past.
And after a summer bursting with soul searching, sorrow, sweetness and solitude, it’s time for me to go back to school. Maybe my memento-gathering habit is coming from a fear that I will lose myself when I return to Teacher role. Maybe I’d like to cohere a little more this fall.
An acquaintance of mine recently announced that after forty years of not remembering school, she all-of-a-sudden remembered school.
“I remember the fresh smell of the new backpacks. I remember the edges on the composition book covers: stiff, smooth.” She glowed as she spoke. Ordinarily, this friend compartmentalizes her past according to problems unsolved and problems solved, she says. She says that she doesn’t usually focus on sensations that are connected with wonder and excitement. Those are feelings that can’t be categorized as “good” or “bad” when you are habitualized to seeing the world in terms of “problem” or “solution” she told me.
“I used to get caught up in that moment when school was about to start. I used to feel–I don’t have a word for it these days. But I guess I’ve never forgotten,” she clarifies. “And I’m feeling those feelings all over again. What would the new year bring? I’d ask myself.” She beamed as she said it. And I was convinced, as she said it, that she was asking it all over again with her eyes and her posture, shoulders back and head held high.
This fall I ask myself, what new space and energy could be created if I embraced my identity as teacher, even if that concept changes every six months? If I could answer, “I’m a teacher” when people ask, instead of hemming and hawing, darting my eyes around and explaining, “well, I teach right now at _______ school.” Really? Is it just this job? Or is it that I am a teacher? If I just accepted that I am a teacher, a peculiar package of foibles, inspiration, errors and desire, perhaps I could get to know other parts of myself better. My students push me and I am gaining the courage to push them in constructive places.
This month, I am being challenged to listen as the city witnesses the tenth anniversary of the flood caused by the failure of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ federal levee system following 2005’s hurricane Katrina. Half of the time, my students say “No, please let’s not talk about Katrina right now.” But then the stories leak out in spite of it all, sideways, after class, when my students can take control of the telling, when I am in my rightful place as listener, not fake-listener/teacher, and when their stories aren’t required to conform to predetermined assignment prompts or pre-packaged narratives that the media (oh, that media!) has donated to us.
I guess I am saying with all of this that I am looking for more space in and around ideas of who I am and what my work creates, and flowing from that, who my students are. If I allow more space, do I (to borrow from Marianne Williamson) “unconsciously give other people permission to do the same”? Allowing those disregarded parts of ourselves some room at the table of consciousness might shake loose new perspectives, might allow those parts to grow and stretch, and get “truthier,” as they say.