Monday, September 22, 2014

sed libera nos a malo

My First Day of High School
An Essay by Me

I woke up two Monday mornings ago, my alarm interrupting a dream I was having about an avalanche and a helicopter. Also, my friend Jacob was in our house and was apparently this fact was upsetting my younger brother. I also had to beat the avalanche home by snowboarding down the mountain. Of all the things I have ever done in my life, snowboarding has never been one of them. In this dream, however, I snowboarded down the mountain with great ease and grace, despite the mountains of snow sliding down the slope with me. I am not one to interpret dreams as dreams, not do I ever imagine that the visions we create at night are augurs of the day to come, but as I sat in the middle of a busy intersection in Upper East Side in a white Ford Escape with a bus coming at me from one direction, and a stream of taxis from the other, I thought again of that avalanche, and I wondered if my unconscious was trying to prepare me for the day ahead by convincing me that I could snowboard in the midst of an avalanche. Snowboard. Really, subconscious, dreaming self?

The day began on a high note: I made a smoothie. I have never really liked smoothies. Smoothies are like half-assed ice cream. I have never half-assed anything in my life. I either do it 500% or I just don't do it. Life is too short to do anything half-heartedly. (But it's not too short to shirk your duties, is the moral of this story.) I made a smoothie out of a frozen banana, and I said to myself: wow. Look how far you've come, woman. Your six-year-old self would never have been able to fathom that one day you would become a human who liked bananas. Much less a banana smoothie. So I made a smoothie, and felt like an adult. And also a badass.

Then, I went to school. Then, I quickly went home. And, in a few minutes, I found myself driving my roommate's car in the middle of Upper East Side intersection in a New York City traffic jam. How did I get here? I thought. Ain't nobody got time for this, I moaned. I had a chicken breast to marinade! I am slowly and surely learning the first step of actual, true adulthood: to cook dinner, even when you don't feel like it. That is the beauty of this community that I am living in: young adults only cook for themselves when they really feel like it and have the time to feel like it. Actual adults have to cook for their family, even when it has been a long day at work. This community is prime family training ground. A semi was driving toward me on one side, and another stream of traffic on the other. Caught between a semi and a taxi cab. That'll be a new urban proverb, I thought.

Eventually, I power-steered my way out of the traffic jam, with lots of panache, raw will, and a couple of expletives (but only the lady-like ones). Got to school. Felt flustered, but pulled my ish together. First day of teaching. Here we go. Feel the teacher. Act the teacher. Be the teacher. (My theatre degree comes in handy here.) I taught my first section of computers class. (My theatre degree does not come in handy here.) It went okay. I did not smile. I looked stern. I meant business. I let everyone know that I was here to teach. I really wanted to smile and be nice and say things like: I'm Renée! I love theatre and roses and rosé and rose-colored glasses! and you are a beloved child of God ALL the time, even when you're annoying or wrong or in detention! Perhaps this would actually be a better mode of teaching than the currently approved of method of being a normal, respect-cultivating adult. Perhaps I will try my own method soon. But not that day. That day, I was going to teach them how to Microsoft Excel like a m*$#@!&^%*#$ champion, like my *$(%#@& life depended on it. (Those are not the lady-like expletives, so I censored out those ones.)

So that happened. I feel like it would be a stretch to say it went "well." But it happened. And I didn't die or lose my temper. No one's voices were raised and no one lost a limb. I think that may serve as a good definition A Successful First Day of Teaching. But the day was not over. Au contraire, far from it. I was put in charge of a room full of seniors serving JUG (which most ordinary, boring folk call "detention", but Jesuits call Justice Under God. The more you know). I am not a senior. And yes, I have a full four years of collegiate, worldly experiences and stacks of theological reading to separate myself from these twenty-five young men and women. But, really, underneath my office-appropriate blouse and demurely cut pencil skirt (demure cut, but rose-colored magenta color. Vive le difference.), I am really just another bumbling human being, just like they are, who is trying to find out where to go and what to do with her life and who I should be and how I fit into the world, just like they are.

We are so different, I told the room of seniors in my head. You are from a different City, a different neighborhood, a different life than I am. You are so young. You are seventeen and so young.
Even when we say the same words, we speak different languages.
But we are so same, I told them, smiling at my secret. You and I--we think similar thoughts, we dream some of the same dreams. We have hopes and desires, aspirations and ambitions. We are not different. For all my four extra years of education, we are terrifyingly the same.

But somehow, I kept the room of twenty-five students quiet for an hour. It was about as easy as snowboarding in an avalanche. But I somehow managed it with the grace and ease I had discovered in my dream. Grace for beginner's and novices, as they say.

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