17 May 2012

Beyond Capability

My birthday this year was relatively uneventful.  Honestly, it was almost boring.  For the last seven years I've celebrated my birthday by hiking in England or cutting class and going out to lunch with friends.  The last two years of my responsible adult life I've had a weekend birthday.  This year I had to teach.  The school year is in the process of ending and most of the people I would normally choose to celebrate the day with are so busy with grading and end of year concerts and such that I spent the majority of my birthday alone with my Facebook alerts and a depression funk I'd been fighting for several days before hand for company.  Mazel tov.

(Don't feel too bad for me.  I intend to extend my birthday for several more days until I can have a proper party with people I love.  It will happen.  And it will be delicious.)

Determined not to let my day be a complete depressive funk of work and usefulness, I spent my prep period (and the study hall I supervise) be devoted entirely to finishing I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak again.  (Incidentally, if you haven't read any of his books, do it.  Now.  They're gorgeous.)

There is a sentence at the end of the book that I had to read several times over again.

Maybe everyone can live beyond what they're capable of.

I thought about this for the rest of the day.  As a teacher, I'm a huge advocate for my students.  All of them.  The nation spends their time fighting primarily for the failing students who need help because of learning disabilities or financial troubles or eating disorders or general disinterest.  I spend my time reminding my students that no matter what their age or ability or socio-economic background, everyone struggles to get to the next level of awesome.  It's just part of life.  Something will (or should) always be hard.

I just wish sometimes I could take that advice myself.

Playing Beth in Little Women has been a bit of a rough experience in some ways.  I can count dozens of times in my life when my verbal-ness has been the subject of sarcasm and laughter, and just as many where suddenly my love of language and gift with words felt more like a curse than a blessing.  Times when I would try so desperately to be shy and quiet and void of opinions and the revolting urge I have to share them.  Try to be the one that is easy to like and to understand.  And now I spend my nights being the one that is easily adored and fawned over by everyone so that her eventual death is something worth mourning - not just because death is sad.  In some ways, coming out of that mode and back into the reality of my own rather difficult personality isn't always pleasant.

A few days ago we were running a scene where Jo takes Beth to the seashore as a last ditch attempt to try and bring her back to full health.  Sitting there in my wheelchair while my Jo flopped with joy over my lap I smiled and felt for the first time in a very honest way why Beth is so attached to her older sister.  Jo's way of life is more dramatic - much more dramatic than Beth's simple existence - but Jo is so full of life.  She is ambitious and excited about possibilities.  That excitement occasionally blinds her to the simple joys her sister Meg seeks in a home and family, or the perhaps more trivial ones from Amy who loves beauty and luxury - but she does the best she can and always comes around.

So as much as I admire and love people like Beth, and as much of a joy as it is to play her, I also know that to become her would be to sacrifice much of what makes me feel alive.  Like Jo, I sometimes learn the hard way and the long way and frustrate people before I realize what I've done.  But, like Jo, I do what I can to make amends as soon as I can.  I have ambition and drive and always do better when I make choices without feeling pressure from family or society.  It can be a curse - but it can also be a blessing.  I am learning to live beyond my current capabilities without feeling burdened by them.

You'll just have to forgive me if it takes longer for me to adjust myself than you would like it to.  This "perfecting oneself" business is a pain.  (I'll return the favor.)

08 May 2012

Holding on or Letting Go?

I came onto the Lost fan train a little late.

By a little late I mean, oh, ten years or so?  I remember roommates watching it and friends talking about it but I never really took the time to figure out what all the hype was about.  I wasn't anti-Lost, I just was too busy to be bothered with another show to follow.  By the time I thought "well, maybe it would be worth my time", everyone said I'd be lost (literally) unless I started at the beginning and playing catch up didn't appeal enough to push me to action, so I stayed away.

Recently I've started watching.  (So help me, if you spoil anything for me, I will hunt you down.  I'm nearly done with season two.  As soon as school is out I'm sure I'll bulldoze through them all in a few weeks.)  It's a fascinating sort of show, isn't it?  For those of you who aren't familiar, the basic premise is that a group of people get stranded on and island after a plane crash.  The show uses flashbacks to the time before the island to help you get to know these people so you have a reference point to see if the island is a good thing for them or a danger to them.  I love the way the set up of the show gives everyone a clean slate - and then puts them back into the same situation they were in before the crash of the plane (more or less) to see if they can grow or not.  I love how ruthless the show is in terms of things being fair or unfair.  I've enjoyed watching the show expand from a glorified Survivor episode into something much grander and more mythological.

One of the episodes I watched recently involved the backstory of a woman who found out she had cancer that had come out of remission.  Her doctor gave her approximately a year to live.  She accepted this, and was ready to move on and make the best of the life she had left.  Her new husband didn't seem too keen on this idea of moving on, and more or less conned her into going to see a healer in Australia who was supposed to be a miracle worker.

Fast forward to this couple on the island, and the husband is still intent on doing things.  He's not going to let himself be stuck on an island, so he decides to put together a large S.O.S rock signal on an empty beach.  His wife doesn't agree - she thinks, after being stranded on the island for a few months, that this will give people false hope, and they should spend their time instead on living the life they have, not hoping for the life they don't.

Without going into too much detail about their story and how it all turns out - this contrast interested me, because 90% of the time, I'm a doer.  When something needs to be done, I'd prefer to do it myself because I'm egotistical like that and I tend to believe that I prefer my way of doing things to the way someone else would come up with.  It's not that I don't trust that other people are capable, it's more common that I just am a slight control freak and a schedule obsessor and taking on a task myself means I can control the schedule of when something gets done and predict my happiness with the outcome.

And for most of my life, the idea of letting go seemed synonymous with quitting for me.  It meant failure and not being good enough.  But life as a doer is stressful.  Especially when life is uncontrollable and other people also have, you know, agency.  I am determined that it's time for me to spend a little more time letting go.  Letting go of social pressures that are, on the whole, more imaginary than real.  Letting go of stresses I can't fix.  Letting go of trying to control so much of my future that I can't enjoy the present.  It's time to start living, as CS Lewis instructs in Screwtape Letters, in the present.  Living in the past is fruitless, living in the future dangerous.  But living in the present - that is where life touches the eternities most closely.  That is where I want to be.