I keep seeing my 8th grade self in the 127 students I taught this year. I’m the one over there that’s not rocking the boat. Without the nerve or need to ask for clarification, who simply knows what I have to do. I’m the suck up, unintentionally, of course, the kind who knows that that I need to get this stuff right the first time or face whatever mockery or belittlement would be dished out otherwise. Oh, or the disappointment my failure would bring too someone somewhere. I’m the one who doesn’t like the attention — definitely not negative attention and surely not positive attention that I lobby for myself. Honestly, I’m only worthwhile by being perfect.
This tendency to overdo, overperfect, and undercelebrate me never actually leaves, and anytime I see it in a student, I want to stop them, tell them to fail, tell them to try something that’s hard. Not math-problem hard. Those weren’t actually hard. I mean put-yourself-out-there-and-risk-fucking-up hard.
But I never do. Even now, I can’t be the change that I really ought to be, the one that makes a difference. By all accounts, I have everything it takes — except courage.
So I stay very tight lipped. I don’t tell anyone anything until I know th answer and have somehow found a way to control the message. That’s how I stay in charge. Always.
This, incidentally, makes me a master at handling stress. Like when my mentor emails to ask if I’ve applied for jobs, which I should have but haven’t. I hear myself telling her, “I’ve had a few more important things on my mind. You know, dying cat, dying sister, this class that I’m teaching that I know I’m fucking up, and the other one I was saddled with, too. O, yeah, and making ends meet on a lousy $19k intern pay. “ I hear myself saying this and know that it’s honest, gritty, transparent, vulnerable, exactly what I should say to be human.
But I don’t say it. In fact, I say nothing. I just ignore her message and keep all of this tamped down hard. Brick hard. Starbucks baristas got nothing on my tamping skills. Healthy. Keep those emotions hidden from view. Nothing ventured, nothing lost, right?
Turn it off, like a mother-fucking light switch.