Tuesday, July 10, 2007

inspiration and desperation

Sometimes, I watch documentaries that are simultaneously inspiring and depressing. Regular movies can make me feel emotional sometimes, but documentaries, the stories of real people, are what deeply move me. Recently, the husband and I watched The Hobart Shakespeareans. I highly recommend it. It's a PBS documentary about an award-winning teacher, Rafe Esquith, who has his fifth-graders performing Hamlet, weeping over Huck Finn, treating each other with respect and courtesy. At one point, the interviewer asks the children what their favorite book was, that they read that year. Other than Huck Finn, the close second was Of Mice and Men, followed by Lord of the Flies. I remember when the documentary originally aired, a bunch of people on SHAKSPER (it's a listserv for Shakespeare scholars, mostly) grumbled that the kids didn't really understand the text, or that they could get their students to do Hamlet too, if Ian McKellen randomly dropped by *their* classroom. Having seen the documentary, I would say that's all sour grapes. I was so inspired by Mr. Esquith--but also depressed. I saw this movie, and I thought, "Well, what's my job about? I help the wealthy learn foreign languages for their pleasure cruises." I felt that way about The World According to Sesame Street, my favorite documentary of all time, as well. It's about doing Sesame Street internationally, focusing on Kosovo, South Africa, and Bangladesh. The people on the Bangladesh crew were risking their lives during riots and floods to bring literacy to children in a nation where most five-year-olds work. That's cool. As you may have gathered, I'm a big fan of literacy. Again, what's my job about? I comfort myself by saying, maybe, when I teach Sunday school, I can be a bit like Mr. Esquith. I can set high expectations and know that they are capable of reaching them. I can demand that they behave in a courteous manner to each other, and to JC and me. I also have the advantage of Josh, who will be my only returning kid. I'm definitely going to enlist him on my side. Maybe some day I can figure out how to teach Sunday school professionally. I've thought, recently, about trying to get my teaching certification. Though I have a master's degree, it's in Shakespeare; none of my education is really about educating other people. Still, all the jobs I've had, excluding possibly working at the bakery, were mostly education. I was a literacy educator for AmeriCorps, I've worked at arts summer camps, I work for an educational software company now, and most importantly, I was a director, which is all about teaching. My friend Stacy was a high school history teacher for a while. He's read Mr. Esquith's books, and we discussed them a few weeks ago. Stacy said, "That's the teacher everyone wants to be, and everyone goes into it thinking they'll be that teacher...but they're not, of course. I'm not. I was a little bit, but not as much as I would like."

As to my job, the one that's not about anything...the kicker is, it used to be about something. I used to feel like I was changing lives and helping people interact and making the world friendlier. Lately, though, I've been having a really rough time at work. Things have gotten awfully political, and some of my friends have been canned or reassigned. With all that going on, I'm having a hard time focusing on and believing in the idealistic notions of this company. I respond to situations like this by becoming a very different person, a person I don't much care for. When I was in high school, I felt like I was surrounded by inefficiency, and by people who refused to take me seriously just because I was fifteen. I heard a lot of "no" with no reason behind it. Though my grades were great, I felt fragile. Also my parents were getting divorced--a situation that didn't make sense, tore my life up with lies and broken promises, and left me seriously ticked off. I got angry with people really easily, and I fought mean. Then I went to Hiram College, where I was loved and rewarded for being myself. I heard a lot of "yes" there. I found mentors, professors who would talk with me about my work and my dreams, who would challenge me without shutting me down. I blossomed at Hiram, and if I had to make the same choice again, I would go there in a heart beat. I had my share of frustrations there; I even had enemies, people who were out to get me. Those enemies never succeeded, though, because they didn't have any real power over me. They couldn't dominate my spirit--or yank funding for my plays. When I left Hiram, I thought I would never find a place like that again--a place where my work earned respect and privilege, where people knew that they could come to me with their questions and problems. When I started working at my current job, I felt like I had found that place again. I thought I had found the perfect job for me--it wasn't the Peace Corps, and it wasn't the Stratford Festival, but it was pretty good. I had friends and a loving community; my team was like my family. I had meaningful and challenging work, complex linguistic problems to solve. I was seriously happy. I actually got bored on the weekends and wished I could be with my team at work. Now I don't have that. I do repetitive tasks, cleaning up other people's mistakes, and try to maneuver through the lies that filter down the chain to me. The whole situation is that much worse because I know what I lost--I had the best job I could have dreamed up for myself for a whole year, and now, without my job title changing, I have one that makes me crazy. I've been starting to act out of anger and fear again. I'm becoming someone I don't much like, again. It's like high school all over, except that now I know I have betterness within me.

So, I was off for five consecutive days last week, recovering from having the wisdom teeth yoinked, and those were really great days...not just because of the Vicadin. The freedom from the stress of everything made me feel better--despite the shooting pain in my jaw--than I had in a very long time. When I realized that I had to go back to work today, I started crying. I didn't want to face that, I didn't want to deal with feeling so out of control. So I prayed about it, quite fervently. I prayed, not to change the situation, but to change myself. During church on Sunday morning, God put Craig, the manager of one of the three projects I'm working on, into my mind. Craig is about one of the kindest human beings I know. Last week, he emailed some notes I had written to a translator, copying me on it. He told the translator not to be offended if my remarks seemed harsh: "she's really not that way at all!" I felt awful about it--what I was responding so negatively to was NOT the translator, but a corporate environment that set her to translating with out any training in our method. I was really angry at the people who had failed to provide the ounce of prevention...So this morning, I went to Craig, and I explained the short version of this story to him. I asked him for some help--could he please just ask me to revise when I seemed a bit out of control, and also, could he help me to train the translator, even in a short and quick kind of way, to make our work together run more smoothly? Craig smiled and agreed--I get the feeling he's just as abused as any of us, and just as aware of it. He thanked me for coming to him, and he talked a bit about his own struggles with the pressures we're under.

My day went pretty well after that. I went for a walk with Bethany. "Something has broken," she said. "I think we're making progress. I think things might get better." I understood what she meant, and agreed with it--broken like a fever breaks, when the worst is over. Did the power of my prayer encourage God to do all that, or was He going to anyway?

I hope that this is the beginning of something better. I read the classifieds daily; my company is definitely the most interesting game in Harrisonburg (other alternatives include...milking cows...working at a poultry processing plant...). I don't want to leave, because I'm still so deeply in love with the people here. I hope that God helps me have the strength to stay, and to transform this place into somewhere I would love to be again. I'm sure this is, in some way, a test of my patience. I feel like the last threadbare bit of my patience is ready to give out; I'm hoping God agrees.

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