A year?! Surely not. The last time I wrote I was in London.
I'm guessing those of you who clicked the link to come here probably already know a good deal of what has happened since then. I came home from Europe and started in on life as normal. There were student government retreats and Shakespeare trips and rehearsals. There were lessons to plan and units to organize and a new classroom to put together. It was routine.
And when it was good it was very very good. It was the thrill of delivering a joke that always got a laugh, or watching students come alive with a new idea. It was being surrounded with the wonderful, beautiful comfort of the familiar. It was long walks by the river or trips to the city to binge on chocolate shops.
And when it was bad it was horrid. It was depressive fits that wouldn't leave. It was classes I couldn't conquer and students I couldn't crack. It was an awful feeling of being stuck. Of not knowing what to do, what would come next, how I would ever manage another day like the one before. I started to realize that something needed to change. I wasn't right for my students any more. I had been, once, but I wasn't any more.
It felt horribly, miserably like failure.
I'd moved to this new school only two years before feeling very firmly like this was what I was meant to do. So why had it gone so dreadfully? Why had it been so excruciatingly hard to make any inroads? Why was I so miserable?
In an act of sheer desperation I started looking online for grad schools. (But what about my house? My car? How could I leave where I was? What would I do with all my things? What about the shows I wanted to audition for? My church? My friends?) As with so many things in life, there was no good solution that would allow me to keep what I wanted and gain what I wanted while losing what I didn't want. I wouldn't be able to craft the perfect solution without some damage.
The first, rather mad idea, was to go back to England. I've always wanted to live abroad. If not permanently, then at least for a little while. What's more, the program I'd like to study for my MFA is offered in Essex and York. Perhaps a wild year abroad would be just enough to jump start my emotional health again. It felt alright. Not the perfect solution, but possible.
And then someone suggested I work for Disney and no matter how hard I tried I couldn't shake the thought from my head, which, to be honest with you, ticked me off at first. I knew that working for Disney would mean moving to Orlando and, frankly, my first experience in Orlando was less than awesome. I had a rather abusive phone call from my then vice principal just off Main Street in Magic Kingdom (this was months before we got the sexist/corrupt jerks fired) and I had a nasty experience with heat stroke that left me swearing that Orlando was a hellish swampland to which I never wanted to return. Why in heaven or earth it felt good to pursue a job in Orlando, the exact opposite corner of the US I'd like to live in and the exact opposite climate of England, I couldn't begin to explain.
Which was probably why I knew it was what I was supposed to do. It's my litmus test. When I feel inexplicably right, at peace, and motivated by something that I wouldn't normally want to do: it's right, and denying it is futile.
You know the end. I applied for about twenty jobs, got rejected from nineteen of them and hired by one. Within months I had packed up my life and driven across the country back to this place where it's 100 degrees and 200% humidity half the year. I left all those things I was terrified to lose: my friends, my family, my beautiful mountain home and the river trail. I took my final bow and decided to take a chance on something totally, thoroughly wild.
People have asked me why I did it. Why I chose to leave a decade long career in teaching to chase some dream? I never quite know how to respond to that question. So many times the questioner assumes I left teaching because I hated it or got worn down by it. In some ways, that's true. I don't like admitting that. I don't like admitting that a group of students managed to get to me so much that I just couldn't take it. That's why rookies leave. Not seasoned, experienced teachers with more backbone. I'm not a quitter. But I didn't leave teaching only for that. Students graduate. Classes change. And I love teaching. I still do. So why did I leave? The next part of that first question assumes it's to chase some life long dream of working for Disney. That's not entirely true either. Because my life long dream was to teach. To change the world through education. My dreams were never that wild, never that risky. But I needed a change, and Disney just felt right.
So how am I?
Most of the time I'm ridiculously happy. I like Florida way more than I thought I would. Even with the humidity and the roaches and the insane weather, I like Florida. I like what I do. It pays horribly, but there's lots of chance to grow and change and learn new things, and I like all of that. I like having a job I can leave at the office. I like a job that I know I do well. I like a job where I can address people who are upset and then send them on their way and not have to do more with them. Water off a duck's back. I like my co-workers and my leaders and I believe in what Disney stands for and strives to create. I love being a part of something that wonderful.
I love the feeling I have of, for the first time in my life, really, truly taking a risk on myself. I've never been good at that. Oh, I dream big. But ultimately my Anne Shirley imagination has always given way to Elinor Dashwood practicalities, and doing something that has required so much continual and open courage is a new feeling for me.
Other times I look at my life and wonder what on earth I did to myself. My path, once so clear and steady all the way to the horizon, now seems so much less obvious. The straight path is now crooked, forking out in so many possible directions I hardly know which one to follow, which is both thrilling and wholly overwhelming.
When I was getting ready to move, I described once to a friend that I felt like I was being put through faith pushups. That as soon as I was sure I was done (and, let's be clear, I hate working out in most senses, so it usually wasn't very long), my coach would demand another. Then another. Then ten more. I think the whirlwind of first arriving here and the distraction of setting up a house and learning a new job allowed me a brief cool down. Now the coach is asking for more.
So for those of you who have been on my side, who have cheered me on and supported me, I wanted to say thank you. I've been listening to Anne of the Island again and was reminded of how disparaging her town was of her pursuing college education after teaching. I've had the exact opposite experience from my "town", and for that I am so grateful. Come visit. Please. I would love to show you around.