For nearly 18 years, Tolkien has been my literary idol. His words are lyrical and intellectual and as poetic as prose can be with neither rhyme nor meter. His stories are epic and astounding, digging deep into the nature of temptation and good and evil and capturing the heart and hardships of medieval adventure, swords and sorcery. His trilogy has become the standard by which all fantasy trilogies are judged, and it’s to his level of exquisite storytelling that I have long since aspired to achieve.
And I’ve realized now that while his tales may stand the test of time, and may be the most classic of all fantasy stories, not all within his tomes should live so long.
Grading papers. Sitting in a cafe between two tables with chatty white girls on either side of me. I’m not trying to generalize or say they were basic, but could a conversation get more bland? Even unintentionally overhearing them, I craved a little salt on my tongue.
So the girl on my left, she starts saying that maybe she’ll become a teacher, and she, like, read this article about things you don’t know about teaching until you teach, and like, “I know you get the summers off, but I don’t know if I could go three months without a paycheck.” And I was like, girl, forgive my intrusion, but let me tell you how it really is.
Back in the earliest days of my college career, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, but I also knew I never wanted to be a creative writing teacher: Don’t get me wrong, creative writing is one of my passions, but by that time I’d spent years participating in online writers communities, reading others’ stories and providing very detailed feedback.
And, if I may, I was damn good at it. People I’d never met before knew my name because of the quality constructive criticism I gave, and sometimes writers would ask me out of the blue to read their rough drafts or proofread their final copies. I was even invited to judge not one but two different short story competitions!
So why didn’t I want to become a creative writing teacher? And now that I’ve finished teaching a four-week creative writing elective, why will I never teach it again?
I slept anxiously last night. The snow began falling before I’d left work, and by the time I stepped out to get my haircut, the roads were disastrous (thankfully, I only have to walk across the street). By nightfall, already a few dozen schools had closed.
So I tossed and I turned and every thirty minutes I opened my phone, checking the time in case I’d overslept, and then checking the school closings: the number steadily grew and grew and grew until, at 7 o’clock, I could wait for it to be called no longer: I was going to work today. So I got dressed (my poor little puppy crying as I did so, because she always knows when I’m going to leave), and then met the bus.
Surprisingly, the buses were on time. That, however, was the only surprise.
Remember when I posted about reading that book about vulnerability? I stopped reading it the next day. Yup. You read that right: It was too much and I gave up.
Well, at least for a little while. I needed time to mull over what I had read and let it sink in. If I want to attain lifelong growth from reading this book, I can’t read it in one sitting and expect my life to change immediately. No, it takes more time than that.
So after that first excursion, I decided that two of the nonfiction books I’m reading this year I’m going to read often in small bursts: First is the Sefer Yetzirah, which I’ve been reading one verse at a time, because unpacking each verse when it’s literally steeped in thousands of years of mystical philosophy demands a slow yet attentive reading schedule, and second is Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. The vulnerability book.
Have you looked at the sidebar recently? If you have, there’s a good chance you noticed a new little picture promoting a Kickstarter campaign I started about a week ago: The goal is to create 100 poems, each of them inspired by a backer’s writing prompt, handwritten on a postcard, and illustrated with a watercolor painting before being put in the mail.
And…I hesitated to share it here. On the one hand, this my platform, why shouldn’t I? But then I remembered last year I heavily promoted a similar project here, and it ended up being unsuccessful, and I didn’t want to risk making my blog readers feel spammed by another failed project. Worse: I felt vulnerable putting it out there again, because my first attempt was a failure. So mum was the word. At least, until today.
It is now late evening on January the second of the year two thousand and nineteen. I had said, in declaration of intent, that the thing I would do immediately was finish the Netflix adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Of this, I spoke truly: for now it is done.
But as one tale ends, a new adventure begins, and just as some characters in some story set sail themselves (said simply so as to avoid spoilers), tomorrow I begin a new tale as well: For tomorrow I begin teaching my creative writing elective, and try as I might to plan for it (and I did so today, for hours), I still feel woefully unprepared.
But this is not that story: it is the end of another.
Yesterday I looked back at how Story has driven me. Today, the first day of the new year, I look forward: This is not an outline of goals or resolutions, but a declaration of intent.
There are, I fear, still too many unanswered questions in my life, within my soul, and there has never been (in my lifetime, at least) a more apparent time of open conflict in our country than there is now: As the alchemists said, as above, so below, and I extend this idea to “as around, as within.” Perhaps I cannot quell the conflict around me, but if I can calm the questioning inside, perhaps that feeling will spread outward to others.
And if not, I’ll at least be better prepared to live my best life regardless of the world around me. Let it all fall into chaos: then I shall still stand tall and true.