Earlier this year, I set a goal for myself. I decided I would read 30 books in 2013, which seemed like a huge undertaking given that grad classes were literally eating my brains for dinner.
As of today, I’ve read 41 books, not counting a few pretty awful children’s books we read that I liked so little that I couldn’t add them to my “read” shelf on Goodreads, or the really great picture books we’ve read that I didn’t want to count simply because they were so short. I’m just a few chapters into the third book of The Hunger Games series, and after this I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I have a few school-related books on my “to-read” shelf that I should probably tackle, including First Time Up: An Insiders Guide for New Composition Teachers (the cover reminded me so much of Spiritual Midwifery) and Understanding Rhetoric, a potential textbook.
I’ve also been reading the Just Grace series with my Grace, and reading it aloud to my daughter every day has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life. I love the little girl’s voice, and I love bringing her to life through mine. I have a friend who also teaches in my department and works with me in the writing center who has a little girl voice inside her that comes out when she writes about her childhood memories, and I always think about her when I read these books.
Last week, I finished the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Summer Invitational Institute. There’s a page up at the top where you can find my ePortfolio. The EMWP is focused on nurturing the teacher as writer, teacher as consultant, and teacher as researcher, and works from the beliefs that everyone can write and that writing is teachable. It’s been a full week now since our last day, and I’m still not sure I want to attempt to summarize that experience in a box on a screen. I will say this: I think about my own writing much differently now. I am brave, wanting to try new ways of working with language to create something, to build a story or a character, to breathe life into a memory so that it isn’t flat anymore.
I also have been forced to confront the discomfort I feel about teaching with so little training and no background in education. In many ways, I felt like a phony, surrounded by these incredible K-12 teachers who teach every day, the victimized faces of education reform, and the most passionate, committed bunch of people I have ever met. I teach one class, twice a week, and there’s nobody breathing down my neck as my students take an exam that measures their worth in a percentage and my teaching value in pay. Still, by the time we reached our last day and Shari asked us to fill in the center heart – a space we had left blank from a writing prompt we had done on the first day – I knew I needed to practice trusting myself. And the EMWP gave me the resources I needed to do that.
And so did the books I’ve been reading. Or, maybe it was the choice to read at all.
I know that I have the kind of personality that can be obsessive. I over-think and overanalyze everything, I collect books that I hope might explain to me exactly how things work (but I can’t read them all and they don’t help anyway), I love to think about theory and how various belief systems are framed, and I also hate these things because
they drive me I drive myself absolutely crazy. Reading (fiction) lets me escape. I put in less hours of work, and I am more productive. I’ve been hesitant to say that because just last night I realized that somehow or another, a line of data entry had gotten screwed up, and I worried for a minute that I had lost my attention to detail, that I was spending too much time with my nose in Harry Potter and not enough time on the tasks I was given, but I also know that I am a much better teacher, writer, student, and I can make far greater contributions to my department and my program when I take care of me.
And I’ve smiled more this summer than I have in most of my adult life.
It’s hard to believe that just 6 months ago, I thought 30 books would be pushing it. But it’s almost 10pm on a Friday night and I’m home on the couch, in my pajamas, planning to read as much of the last book of The Hunger Games as I can before curling up for sleep. Yesterday, we went to the Detroit Institute of Arts and then met a friend for tea. Last weekend, my daughter turned 6 and we had a birthday party. I’ve even started to draw and paint, and I’m not so terrible! I’m finding so much pride in what I do. One year ago, I was a big sad mess, trying to write a thesis on something I could only speculate on, bringing home stacks of books from the library and trying to swallow every word but gaining no new knowledge that could help me get it all done. I was miserable, I questioned my choice to study Written Communication, I briefly switched to another program and then, panicked still, came back. Finally the pieces fell into place.
Remembering why it is that I do what I do – it’s not because I love writing (v.) it’s because I love writing (n.) – has saved me.
Which means I’m sort of my own hero. Alongside an army of great teachers, of course.