It’s 8:56 PM as I write these words. At this time next week, I will be tired after having gone to work for the first time since mid-June. I’m depressed. Now before you give me the Well, I work all year round, get two vacations, and have to work on weekends speech, please rest assured, I know this. I used to, too. My wife has to work like this, and she reminds me of this whenever I kvetch too much or too loudly.* As she should. But here’s the thing about teaching, the 7:30-3:00 day (which is really more like 7:15-3:15, or 4) isn’t the only thing required.
If I can, I try to get all my grading (I hate the term correcting, but I’m not a math teacher, either, so…) done during the school day so I don’t have to take anything home. Luckily, with what I teach, I can do this more often than not. It’s about time management and finding opportunities when they arise. Kind of like writing when you have a full-time job and a family. Still, I do occasionally have to bring work home. Hours of work.
Then there’s the planning. I haven’t been back to work since June. I will go in this week to get my room prepared and to get some supplies I need for my first day. Because I teach freshman, there is more stuff I have to do on Monday than many of my colleagues, who will be setting up their classrooms that day. I haven’t actually even opened any files that are work-related. To the untrained civilian eye, I have done nothing for my job since mid-June.
I’ve been thinking. See, teaching is an art, or a craft, like writing. My life as a writer as helped me be a teacher as much as being a parent has helped me be a teacher (maybe someday I’ll tell you how being a teacher has helped me be a parent). So when I’m sitting at my desk, or on the couch, or at the table, or in the car, and it looks like I’m doing nothing, my mind is going. Racing, really. Sometimes it’s in Writer Mode, thinking about the current draft of the novel (almost done! Ayiiiiii!) but more and more frequently I’m thinking about work. Lesson plans. Ideas. Ways to present the information. Ways to present myself. Two weeks ago, my two-mile walks were mainly me thinking about the book or stories I want to write between drafts 2 and 3. Last week, my two-mile walks were split between writing and teaching, with teaching taking up more and more of my thoughts.
I’m about to start my 8th year as a teacher, and I’m revising in my mind. By the end of the weekend, I’ll begin writing notes. By Wednesday, my third day (and the school’s 2nd day), I’ll have a bunch of handwritten lesson plan notes that will eventually be typed up and submitted to my boss when the time comes. Some may tsk-tsk. You should have your lesson plans before you step foot in the classroom, they say. I do. I have last year’s. My springboard. It’s how I work and it works for me, so back off.
I love teaching, no doubt about it. But I love writing more, and I worry that my writing might stall as the Day Job takes up the mental and physical energy required to do it. I’ve known teachers who didn’t give it their all, who made their jobs easy. I sat in with an English teacher once who actually sat at their desk the entire class, every class. The kids were bored. Sure they learned something, maybe, but they didn’t have to think. Everything was fed to them. Everything. I knew a different teacher who taught straight from books and slept at their desk. Can you imagine that? Neither are in the profession anymore and I’m glad, because their students were at a disadvantage with them. I can’t do what they did. I can’t go the easier route so that I have more energy, more time. So I give it my all, teach my lessons like Robin Williams did stand-up comedy, or like Bruce Springsteen puts on a rock concert, and come home to be Daddy, and then Honeybun, and then…Bill Gauthier, writer of such books as Alice on the Shelf and stories such as “The Growth of Alan Ashley.”
And that’s the thing. This summer, I was a stay-at-home dad. From the time I woke up until the time G went to bed, I was Daddy. When Pamela got home from work, I was Daddy and Honeybun. When she went to bed, I allotted two hours for myself. From 9-10, I was Bill Gauthier, writer. From 10-11, I read. Sometimes I fuck around online, but more often than not, I read. I’m a slow reader and need all the help I can get.
About a month ago I wrote about not breaking the chain. I haven’t. This blog can be my X for tonight, though I still fully intend on working on the novel, too. Here is what the chain looks like now:
I’ve been busy, and the goal wasn’t just to not break the chain but to also get myself into the habit of using 9-10 for writing. I still have to get my Master’s degree, so this is going to be especially important. I know that once school starts back up, the chain will break. My goal is to postpone that from happening as long as I can (that said, my money is on next Monday night, Tuesday maybe). I don’t know if I’ll succeed, but by now, even when I don’t want to write, I find I’m able to manage something.
So if you know a teacher who’s about to go back to school, or has already gone back to school, don’t give them a hard time about going back when they complain about it. There’s no need to remind them about their vacations or holidays. Remember, I didn’t even mention how the kids’ lives seep into ours as we grow concerned because this one has that issue and that one needed to be brought down to guidance and that other one is failing even though they’re brilliant. I didn’t mention the silly politics or the things that don’t work that should work, or….
You get the idea.
I’ve inadvertently written 1,152 words. My intent was to write 500 or so. Oops.
* I love my wife more than anything else in the world, and am not trying to make her sound like a nagging wife. She puts up with my shit but she does not take it, if you get what I mean. Her reminders when I start complaining about having to go back to work aren’t meant to belittle my feelings, but rather to remind me that it could be worse. Just so you know.
This year marked 10 years since my first wife and I split. I think we’re both happier now, which is great, but I wonder how my 16-year-old daughter deals with it. Having had parents that stayed together, I don’t know what it’s like to have to schlep between houses, between rules, between parenting styles. And I know I feel as guilty now as I did the first night in my new apartment in March 2004, the first night in many that I did not read a book to C, or sing to her (usually Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”). The choice I made back then, I’m still convinced, was the right choice. Unfortunately, the collateral damage is sometimes more than I can handle.
This is all the more on my mind now that I’m a married father again. G turned 21 months yesterday. She recognizes the letter G (or Geeeeeeee!, as she says), loves to draw and color, and loves music. She sings better than I do. There’s a huge difference between her at 21 months and C at 21 months, namely, me. I’m 36 (very soon-to-be 37) instead of 21 (soon-to-be 22). I have a career. Two. Teaching and writing. Back then, I had dreams. I’d sold one story to a small press zine, price: one contributor copy.
My 16-year-old has spent her 3rd summer in a row with my sister in Florida. She comes back this weekend. I’ll be tracking her flight. If I know when it’s overhead, and if it’s during the day, maybe I’ll take the 21-month-old outside to look up in the sky and try to see the plane. Unless she’s landing in Rhode Island instead of Boston. I’ll know soon enough. Anyway, I’ve missed her. She’s spent less time at my house this year than the previous 8. I see her every day since we go to the same school. Hell, I was one of her teachers during her freshman year, and will be again during her junior year. Still, I miss her. Her stepmother misses her. And her sister misses her.
She has another sibling on the other side who is older. She’s missed by this one, too, I’m sure. To her younger siblings, C’s like Wonder Woman, Beyoncé, and Oprah mixed together.
I hope I’ve taught her everything she needs to know. And while I’ve made mistakes, I hope I’ve set a good example. But I guess that’s what every parent hopes, married or divorced. You lead them, then you guide them, and then you let them go. It’s an odd dichotomy to be on both ends of the spectrum, leading one and letting go of the other (she turns 18 in less than two years…egads!).
I love my girls. They’re both insanely intelligent, talented, and beautiful. Sometimes I wish I was a better father, but I know that I give everything I can.
And I always will.
Something happened recently that made me question myself. I won’t go into specifics but it made me really question myself. I came out stronger, I think. And a better person, I think. It may have even been one of the last real steps to me becoming–gasp!–an adult.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not going to sell my action figures or relinquish my love of comics books, superheroes, space fantasy, Muppets, or Mister Rogers anytime soon. But for the first time I feel…well…like a man.
Let me explain, if I can….
As a teacher, I began telling my students to grow up to be the kind of person they want to be. If they see themselves as a good person, then work their asses off to become a good person. Everything else will fall into place. Now, as I reread that, it looks a little hippie-dippy to me. The best way I can explain it is this….
When I was a kid, I hated to be asked the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I hated that question because I didn’t know. I was 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, fucking 10 years old! How the hell would I know?! (An aside: This is one question I will not ask children until they are teenagers. I’m more interested in what they want to be now. Childhood is such a short period of time, why sully it with a glimpse into the grown-up darkness that awaits?). So I’d give them some bullshit answer that would shut up the grown-up and get them off my back.
“A baseball player,” I’d say, though I never played Little League, didn’t watch any sports on TV, and generally despised competitive athletics (I still do).
“A police officer.”
“A weather man.”
In other words, I’d give the standard answers that adults expect. The only one that really came close to what, in my heart of hearts, I’d hoped to do was be an actor. I’ll explain why I think I never pursued it another time, perhaps.
But around the time I was 9 or 10, I began to get a glimmer of what I might want to do as an adult. Not a job or career, but a general way of being. I knew that I either wanted to help people or entertain them. Those were the two things that I decided I wanted to try to do.
Now, my choices were limiting, because even as a 10-year-old, I knew I couldn’t work in medicine. I’m too squeamish. And I knew I’d make a horrible police officer (although I think I’d make an excellent detective, but I could be full of shit). So that left…what?
For awhile, I thought I would be a comic book writer and artist, until I decided to focus solely on writing when I was 13.
Fast forward 23 years. I’ve had many bouts of wondering what was happening in my life in the last few years. Turning 36 last August was hard. In age, I was an adult. I could no longer blame my stupid actions on being young and naive. Maybe naive, but certainly not young. And I wasn’t where I wanted to be. I had a job—a career—that I really liked, that I’m really good at, but…it wasn’t the career I wanted. But…I liked it. Loved it, even. Not the paperwork, and certainly not the politics, but the interaction with students. The knowledge that I’ve made a difference in lives. I mean, I have students who have given my cards and notes and vlogs telling me how much my classes, how much my work, has meant to them!
And yet…I was so sad. Because I wasn’t writing full-time. Or working on movies. Or comic books. Because I wanted, in my mind, more.
So one day I was talking to some students after school. This was about a year ago. The two were best friends and one was leaving to go to another school. And I told him that I would be there if he needed me. And then I said:
“One of my favorite writers, Harlan Ellison, has said that his definition of success is ‘achieving in adult terms that which you longed for as a child.’ I’d add to that that if your childhood self met your adulthood self, would he be happy? Would he say, ‘That guy’s pretty cool. I wouldn’t mind becoming him.’
“When I was a kid,” I continued, “I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, but I knew that I wanted to either entertain people or help them.”
And before I could go on to whatever I was about to say, one of the young men said, “And you do both every day right here.”
“Yeah,” said the other. “You’re a success, Mr. Gauthier!”
We laughed and talked a few minutes more before parting ways for the day, but it stuck with me.
This year, I began telling students not to worry about future careers. To have an idea and work toward it, but to decide what kind of person they wanted to be, and the career would present itself.
So I went through a little bit of a fire this year. It made me question myself, and the way I got out was by realizing who I wanted to be. I’ve known since I was a boy. Now it was time to actually be that man.
I’ve always wanted to help and entertain. I’m a teacher and a writer. In my classroom, I help and entertain. If I can make a student laugh, or cry, if I can make a student feel, then I can make them care enough to learn what I need them to learn. In my stories, I can help people escape their lives for a little while, make them laugh, cry, or frighten them. I may try stand-up comedy at some point. I may try acting. I know I’ll write a comic book. I may even try screenwriting. And while I’m still hungry to make the creative part of my life my sole profession, for the first time I’m truly happy with the part of my life that pays the bills.
As a result, I’m a better teacher. I’m a better writer. I’m a better father. I’m a better husband.
I’m a better man.
Harlan Ellison, one of my heroes, turns 80 tomorrow, 27 May 2014. I will leave my usual birthday greeting on his website, and go back to lurking. But I now lurk as the man I know I want to be, not the guy who’s unsure of himself.
It feels pretty great.