Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Arise, Writer: Beginning Again

It has been five years (five!) since I last posted here. In that time, I have undergone turbulence and transformation, heartbreak and healing. It’s been a long five years, and also too short.

This morning, in the midst of unpacking from my most recent move, I found myself digging though the relics of my past. It’s been five years since I had an office or classroom space, so this move to Blacksburg, Virginia has uncovered a mother lode of dusty boxes and plastic bins that have been in storage in my parents’ garage since I left my classroom at the end of the 2008-2009 school year to attend graduate school. Among the artifacts of my public school teacher past are tons of books, archived student works, miscellaneous gifts and tchotchkes, photographs, toys, tools, and other things. 

One box, in particular, held items significant to my sense of teacherly self (and to this blog, as well): all the paraphernalia that come along with being perceived as a talented teacher. There is the clock in the shape of West Virginia that was given to me when I spoke at a Mineral County Schools banquet. It needs a new battery but is now hanging above the kitchen sink regardless. Plaques and certificates line the sides of the box—Morgan County New Teacher Award, Morgan County Teacher of the Year, National Board Certified teacher, Japan Fulbright Memorial Teacher. In the bottom of the box is a pair of bent coat-hanger antlers affixed to a wooden base inscribed “Amazing Ms. Moose,” a token from an AP English class years ago. And nested amid wadded and yellowed paper wrapping is an obelisk given to me on the day I was named Teacher of the Year for the state of West Virginia. Looking through these things, I remember that I was a good teacher. I left a job that I loved so that I could grow, but I cried uncontrollably on the day that I packed up my classroom. The summer between leaving Berkeley Springs High School and beginning at The University of Maryland was a tenuous transition, a time of uncertainty—starting from scratch.

My life has been full of startings these last five years. Since I last posted, I have moved five times, losing and gaining loves and friendships along the way. Don’t think I haven’t been writing, though: I return to this blog as a PhD. So between this post and my last post I have written a gazillion papers, as well as a dissertation, all 350+ pages of it, scratched out, revised, and defended, finally. As my dad says, it’s “kind of like a book,” and it’s also like a piece of me that I can’t get back; it’s finished, and I miss it. The day it was complete and submitted in finality, I cried uncontrollably. There is a kind of sadness that sets in when we finish something meaningful, a post-partum ache. Again, I’ve left something I loved in order to grow.

So now I am once more starting from scratch. I have accepted a job at Virginia Tech in teaching and learning. I am the program leader for English education, a visiting assistant professor. It is a time of transition, of mourning the end of my doctoral work and moving on to professorial aspirations. I’m both excited and also frightened by the uncertainty of a new job, a new place. Now, as I transition out of my dissertating, which I loved, I feel the same kind of tenuous uncertainty I felt when I left Morgan County and West Virginia. Like I missed my high school students and colleagues, I miss my dissertation and my peers, professors, and friends at the University of Maryland. I’m eager to begin again, to keep growing, but I am afraid, too. What if I fail? What if I am no longer the good teacher who earned an obelisk or a moose shaped sculpture? What if the hard work of the last four years have been for nothing? Where will these first steps take me? I have no choice but to move forward, so forward I go. 

Life is an ever-expanding spiral of knowing and not knowing, of rising and falling, climbing to descend and begin again. This is the most profound lesson of my life each time it happens, and it doesn’t make the learning any easier—the lesson is raw every time. Perhaps writing can help dissuade that sense of loss. So here I am, starting again, a novice, a teacher and writer becoming, trying to rise. I am starting again, too, in this blog—five years since my last post. In doing so, I invite you to take the first steps with me.


Joseph McCaleb said...

So sweet. Your talent, polished by the exacting work and discipline of a professional, shines through in your writing. As does your heart. Thank you for sharing. You don't mention your communion with nature as tonic for dealing with change--maybe a photo essay with your new finds you've added for hiking, running, climbing, or whatever new inspirational sources. Wonderful to have you back, even from the distance.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written, Sarah. I'm so looking forward to reading these missives from time to time! I know what you mean about missing what at the time seemed SO hard, almost drudgery. When you climb the mountain, there's a little sadness mixed with the triumph. I wonder what that's about. Teaching goes far to mitigate that, I think-- semesters end, but we get to start anew again and again.