The reports concerning my demise are grossly exaggerated. In other words, I am not dead. I have not dropped off the planet. I do not have Covid (thank you, Jesus) and I am physically healthy, alive and kicking.
What I am is committed to NaNoWriMo this month of November. Traditionally, this has been a movement to support writers in completing the word count equivalent of a novel. It has expanded to include words of any flavor, including non-fiction pieces. Which is good, because that is what I am working on with all of my might: a memoir. My life through the lens of growing up in 1970’s and 80’s diet culture and the ridiculousness of that world. Story of the birth of an eating disorder. Crazy stuff all the way around. I have been immersed in the past and dredging up memories that have been buried for 40+years. It. Is. A. Lot.
My daughter is doing it as well, but she is crafting fiction. I am in awe, since that is something I have never attempted. I assumed that it was less vulnerable, but she was quick to correct me on that one. They are still her words, out there in the world, cold and shivering. That makes sense to me.
So the idea is that you take the month of November and commit to writing 50,000 words of whatever work you are doing. I guess this is the average length of a novel? Who knows, but that is the number we are all shooting for. So I did the math at the beginning, and it works out to 1666 words a day to reach that goal of 50,000. I went in with a plan, but here at the halfway point that plan has changed a few times.
First I was going to get up at dawn, pour my black coffee, gaze at the sunrise and pour out my 1666 words before work. Yeah, that was not a thing. Then I was going to write into the night in my bare, cold garrett and shuffle through the next day in a fog, so desperately dedicated to my ART. That was also not a thing. It sounds cool, but it turns out that it makes a big difference if you are working full time as a teacher during the day rather than sitting, smoking, and drinking in a cafe like Ernest Hemingway. It turns out that you have to keep working and shuffling around is not considered being a good teacher. So neither of those options were going to work long-term over the month. I had to come up with a compromise, a plan using the margins in my life. They do exist, I have just been either sleeping or watching “The Great British Baking Show” through them. That had to change, at least for November.
So I looked at my morning. My routine included an extended stay in my chair, nursing my coffee, and reading in the quiet. I shortened up that time and got ready with a half-hour to spare. I noticed that I could write 600-800 words in that time. Also, I sometimes did not have morning meetings so I had some extra time at work before the day began. That was a bonus. (That is when I am writing this post.) Then, I would try to write again after school if I didn’t have an afternoon meeting. This makes it sound like I have a LOT of meetings and that assumption would be accurate. SpEd teachers have team meetings, IEP meetings, IST meetings, safety plan meetings, leadership meetings, staff meetings, PLC meetings (Professional Leadership something or other.) and sometimes bonus meetings. Now I have said yes to co-teaching a college course two evenings a week, so that shrinks those margins too, but they still exist if I am vigilant about them.
This is true for many writers, I think. Many of us are not full time word crafters, we are people with jobs and partners and sometimes children who need us, who fill up the margins in all of the usual ways. So when we add something like a writing challenge, those things get pushed out to the edges of our lives, and we lose our balance for a while. There are those unique beings who just redistribute their busy-ness and no one suffers for it. This is atypical. If you ever read the dedication pages or the acknowledgements at the end of a book, the author almost always thanks their family for doing without them, or thanks their partner for taking over more than their share of the household and child-wrangling duties. This is pretty common. This is probably why I have not taken my writing seriously until now, when my house is empty of children and pets. I don’t think I could even manage feeding and walking a live creature right now.
So I have not posted here in awhile. I am pretty sure that I have lost my ability to write anything remotely funny or amusing to others. My work right now is a deep dive into some long ago trauma, that I have definitely processed in therapy repeatedly. But there is something about writing it out, getting it down that moves you in a different way. You are being super vulnerable because you are writing your words, for the ultimate purpose of sharing them with other people so that they can feel better about themselves for a minute, or hopefully longer. I am thinking about a reader who has suffered in the same way that I have suffered, and that feels a lot more serious and important than trying to be funny on the internet.
As I write that, I realize that is not true. Being funny on the internet was the whole point of starting this blog. Making teachers laugh and then take a deep breath, so that they could come back to work the next day. Expressing the things that we are sometimes afraid to say out loud and having those virtual heads nodding along with me. Filling the air with the beautiful sound of “I am not alone!”. And knowing deep in my very bones, as it was true for me, it is also true for others. Hard students, endless meetings and days when you close your door, put your head on your desk and sob. We need to hear each other say that stuff. Or else we will not be able to sustain this work. This I know with every fiber of my being.
So I am sorry that I have been MIA. I am still a teacher and still laughing and sobbing with all of you other teachers. I still have incredibly difficult students and kids who are making remarkable progress every day. I have kids who are absent a lot, and I worry about them all the time. I still have a personal life that I am trying to keep alive, though it is on life support right now. My true friends will stick around and I will be able to name each and every one of you in my acknowledgement pages at the end of this book I am writing in November.
Photo by Thom Milkovic on Unsplash
1 thought on “missing in action”
You are so much braver than I am, Tess. I hope you got your 50k words done. If not, I’m sure you got a lot of writing (and healing) done. More power to you!
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