my fickle friend

2.6.10

When I moved back home to Hawaii, my intent was to not only be surrounded by people who loved me but to escape. I didn’t have to worry about running into parents or children or seeing any of the familiar sights to remind me of those days even though I still carried those images inside of me. Hawaii turned out to be a vacation. Of sorts. Time was suspended. If time is the movement of thought, according to Deepak Chopra, then time moved very little. I hadn’t solved anything by being away from it all.

If I thought I was vulnerable at Trembling Trees, I was feeling even more exposed at the edge of the woods without a map, a plan or a direction. What to do next? So I was at home. Now what?

I come from a working-class background where being unemployed is not only unacceptable, it’s considered lazy. I felt pressured to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. So I made a few more attempts to leave the country through various volunteer and teaching abroad programs but I never followed through.

The desire and intensity to leave the country was like hearing my heart beat between my ears. It flooded my senses. I wanted to travel but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach anymore. I mean was I any good at it? I couldn’t take another damning experience. I knew in other countries teachers were revered and I craved that kind of acceptance and gratitude that I had originally hoped to find in Waldorf. But I couldn’t do it. There is a quote that I once heard that says, don’t mistake movement for progress. I realized I wanted to take a risk just for the sake of it, risk taking is easy for me but I needed to understand whether or not this was something I truly wanted to do. I needed something to believe in again.

Impulsively I enrolled in graduate school for about a year. I had all this experience in education and it seemed stupid to give up on it. Besides I still had the “I’ll show you” attitude. I wanted to prove to those who didn’t believe in me that I could be a good teacher, that I was a great teacher. Graduate school was my societal gag reflex.

But all other educational philosophies seemed devoid of the depth that I had found in Waldorf. And it turned out booby trap bureaucracy was not just an isolated happenstance relegated to Trembling Trees. It was at the public school where I taught English as a Second Language. It was at the university where I was trying to get my masters degree. It was at the tutoring program where I - tutored and then at the Catholic school where I student taught. It was everywhere and it was defeating, depressing and deflating.

Then when I had to go through student teaching AGAIN, I was placed in a first grade classroom with a teacher who clearly did not want to be there anymore. Mrs. P wanted to be at home with her newborn daughter. So it was no surprise that the children started to come to me for attention and affection. Well, this did not bode well for Mrs. P’s ego and by the by, why not, she had an issue with the way I dressed.

But this time it was because I dressed too nicely. She called me and her assistant into the faculty room one afternoon to discuss her feelings, how she felt fashionably inadequate around us. We were speechless. We’re we supposed to dress down to make her feel more comfortable? It was the reverse The Devil Wears Prada – instead of Prada though this Devil was wearing SAC or Standard American Clothing.

Mrs. P also brought up that she felt the children were emotionally pulling away from her and towards us. Again, what was I suppose to do? I knew this was happening but at the end of the day the children needed an attentive adult. I tried to get the children to go to her directly as much as possible. This was her classroom after all.

But the more she saw that the children were slipping away from her the more egotistic she became. Mrs. P would interrupt me during my designated lesson time and take over when I was suppose to be “practice teaching”. I didn’t enter her classroom to make her feel bad about herself I came here to clock in my time as a student teacher so I could get my master’s degree. Even worst it was an unpaid position and I was living on student loans. I quit the program.

The school was a horrible environment anyway. Everyday I heard the kindergarten teachers yell and scream as the children attempted to line up outside the bathroom. It was common to see the kids crying. I learned to look the other way.

And I became convinced the school priest disliked me for not converting to Catholicism. At the beginning of the year, another student teacher had converted and I wondered if he expected me to so as well. He had such a disapproving stare. I’d catch him staring at me during faculty meetings and assemblies. I couldn’t tell if he was attracted to me or if he was trying to see into my soul.

When I turned my back on teaching I began to realize not only how much getting fired was a stigma but how much I had identified with the role, the label, the occupation of teacher. Because whether we care to admit it or not we all strongly identify with our identity. Without it who are we?

We like to announce who we are. Whether it is a rainbow flag or a rebel flag sticker these identifying symbols on our cars or on our windows tell the world something. In fighting or boxing, fighters enter the ring to their chosen music: Irish bagpipes, the ukulele, rap, rock, or mariachi - their music is shouting this is who I am.

Although I think how we dress pigeonholes us quicker than anything else. We can spy who’s a preppy, a punk or a person of low self-esteem from a block away. People living in the same towns even dress in a similar way. We’re a modern day group of tribes identifying where we belong to through colors, patterns and dress. In Denver Colorado the Subaru is your vehicle and the outdoor outfitter of your choice your attire, in Portland Oregon its urban geek with Buddy Hollyesque glasses, in New York City its black on black, in Hawaii the locals wear T& C and the tourists don Tevas.

Dreadlocks will put you in a different tribe as will your race, your neighborhood, your tattoos, motorcycles or Vespas, Pc or Mac, and clothes with accessories. The human race has become walking billboards for the products they choose to endorse.

And even if you claim you don’t care what others think, I know you do. My PFL (partner for life) is such a person. He tells me all the time that he doesn’t care what people think and I believe him. But he has gone out of his way to change how he speaks. As a Southerner launched for the first time into the diverse world of the military, he was frequently asked, “Where are you from?” And he grew tired of it. Because let’s face it, we all know that the Southern drawl, chatter and twang is associated with hicks with ticks and uneducated inbred backwoods varmint-eating Bible thumping country bumpkins. (Isn’t it ironic that it is considered not okay to stereotype other cultures and races but the South is tasty game?) This whole region is not only “the Bible belt” but the noose to be avoided at all costs by the rest of the country. I saw a bumper sticker in El Paso Texas that said, “I hear a banjo playin’ paddle faster.”

So my PFL (now ex- hahahahaaa) started to listen to how people from California spoke and eventually replaced his accent with a more socially acceptable way of speaking. Now folks down there think he’s a Yankee.

The simple fact of the matter is we do care what other people think. We’re animals and we want to be part of a clan, a sports team, a political party and the social scene.

In high school when I wore clothes from Thailand, flowery dresses, hippie looking stuff I was teased and asked if I was pregnant. When I wore my acid washed jean jacket with Megadeth patches, a carload of local girls taunted me as I walked home. They started it by teasing my clothes and I responded by raising my middle finger and that, my friends, made them turn the car back around. I had to cry in order to get them to leave me alone. Call me a loser but if turning on the waterworks spared me a major ass-kicking let the good times flow. I can still hear them laughing as they drove away.

I’ve learned acceptance is a fickle friend and so is your identity.

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