On Blogging Again and Opening New (Classroom) Doors

I could sit around all afternoon and explain in great detail all the posts I wrote in my head between last January and right now. Life hasn’t exactly been boring, and I’ve had plenty to say. I just haven’t said it.

I could have written about the heavy days following the almost-breakup I was writing about in January… but that seemed hypocritical in view of the relatively positive note I’d last ended on. Also, I doubt it would have made very good reading.

I could have written about the really cool Tom Bombadil painting I did (after all, isn’t that one of the reasons I have this blog? To write about my art?) But the time came and passed.

I could have written about my close friend’s struggle with mental and physical illness this summer, but that was not my story to tell. Besides, I didn’t want to embarrass her.

I could have written about my reactions to the whole gay-marriage debate, but I’d grown far too tired of everyone yelling at each other and no one thinking straight (I know, I know, horrible pun) to subject myself to that same scrutiny (cowardly, I know). Also, by the time my thoughts on the matter had begun to gel into something resembling coherence, everyone seemed to have moved on to Cecil the Lion.

I could have written about writing, but, after all, isn’t it more time-effective to just go ahead and write the novel instead of writing about writing? (Besides, my summer job consumed so much of my time, I barely wrote. Why write about writing when you’re frustrated about not being able to write much in the first place? Talk about counterproductive!)

The time for excuses is past, though. A new school year is upon me, a new convention season is coming up, more people are going to be taking my business cards and looking up this hapless blog… so I’d better post something worth reading, sooner rather than later.

And what I’m going to post is, surprisingly, that I’m thankful to be still here, still posting. I’m thankful for the bad times and the good times I’ve had since January. Because even though there’s been an awful lot of awfulness this year, all of that awfulness has, I think, had its good sides. It’s refining me into a person who is better able to face life fearlessly and love others even when things seem bleak. It’s teaching me to take action, to cut out things that aren’t really worth my time and energy so I can focus on the things and people who really do matter so much to me.

And also, all of this has somehow inexplicably made me very thankful to be starting a new school year. I feel at home in my classroom, almost safe, settled. I love having students come to me, watching their faces light up as we talk about things that I love. I love seeing them learn. It is a beautiful thing.

It’s also, I might add, a particularly exciting school year. After years of such low numbers that most other schools would have given up, my little Christian high school has expanded… we’ve grown from the six students we started last year with to twenty students (!) from 6th through 12th grade. For the first time, I’m teaching middle school. For the first time, I’m teaching enough classes to merit having my own classroom (!!) which I spent way too much decorating. There was a lot of energy and excitement leading up to this past week, the first week of school.

And then the students came in the door.

And, after a week of organized chaos, the rhythm of a new school year has begun to settle–and it isĀ good.

With this rhythm, I’ve even had time to work on my story. And, later today, I fully intend to get a new art project started. I’ve got big plans to do an Eowyn piece before GeekGirlCon next month. Maybe, if the first one goes well, I’ll even do a set.

I guess there’s a reason we have seasons. There’s a sense of refreshment as an old season closes and a new season starts, as a summer ends and a new school year begins.

It’s just enough refreshment to kick me into blogging again. Maybe I can keep it up for a while this time.


Hope is the Thing With Scales

“Hope is the thing with feathers,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “That perches in the soul– and sings the music without words– and never stops– at all–”

I think mine doesn’t have feathers. I think it has scales. Scales made out of the same stuff they use to make blast shields in sci-fi movies.

Because like those stupid bugs that you can grind into the carpet and they still somehow live, I cannot seem to stop hoping that the worst of things will work out. Even if, for a day, I am convinced that there is no point and things are finally hopeless, the slightest touch, the slightest breath of promise, however far-fetched and foolish it might seem, revives my hope, and up it springs, tormenting me once again.

Yes, I say tormenting. And I know I’m being melodramatic, but I’m allowed to be. I’ve had a hideous week, and I can’t seem to give up hope.

That sounds like a wonderful thing, and, deep down, I suppose it is. But sometimes it would just be such a relief to actually be able to throw one’s hands up over a situation and walk away, heart at peace because there actually, truly is no hope. But no. Like one of those tough-shelled bugs, my hope only appears to die. Then it reappears to throw me back into the game.

And I’m not talking a gentleman’s game. More like the Hunger Games.

Allow me to provide a little background before I once again continue philosophizing. I teach at a minuscule Christian school. We had enough students–and just enough students– to run a full program this year. After putting more effort than I really had to give into promotional work last year, we still ended up with fewer students than we had last year. But we still had enough to run a program. Then, last week, one of our full-time students pulled out for “personal reasons.” And it was a student I’d personally connected with and spent a lot of love and tears on.

I cried so much Tuesday that my eyelids were puffy for two straight days. I do not exaggerate.

Tuesday I was convinced that the school could not survive. I finally began to consider the possibility that the promotional efforts had been in vain and maybe I should start looking for another job next school year. Maybe it was time to just give up. After all, what else could I do? I’d already tried.

But of course, the next day, our administrator and I tossed the situation back and forth, and he encouraged me to keep up the promotional work. And that night, I chatted with the student, who admitted that she might want to return at some point.

So, you see, hope is alive and well.

And it’s so very annoying.

Because, you see, there really is no good reason for it. My student could just as well decide to stay out of our school. I might not have any more luck getting our information out to churches that have already slammed the door on me once or twice. And if we don’t get any more students this year, who knows where my last couple of paychecks are going to come from? Hope is ridiculous.

But without it, nothing impossible would ever be attempted. And it’s true that every now and then, once in a blue moon, one chance in a thousand, something impossible actually does happen. Hope lives because miracles do sometimes happen. And on the off chance that this school will be one of them, I will act on my hope.

Pain and disappointment, here we come. All because that stupid scaly thing in my soul won’t die.

Of X-Men and New Beginnings

The last few days have not exactly been the easiest.

Oh, they haven’t been horrible. I think most teachers will probably confess to not particularly enjoying the first week of school. But it hasn’t been the lack of prep time, or the odd shifting from my high school teaching job to my new 4-5th grade TA job and back again to the high school job, and it certainly hasn’t been student misbehaviors. The hardest thing has been coming back to my little, tiny Christian school, facing classrooms with literally half the students in them than I had last year, and having to put on a happy face that I do not feel about the situation.

My students look at me, and I can see it in their eyes–the strangeness of having so many fewer students, when all last year we complained about how the lunchroom was so small and talked about plans to bring in new students. A few will mention it. The others simply shift around awkwardly. Then they look at me, and I smile brightly back at them and reassure them that school this year is going to be wonderful, that we often have students join us partway through the school year, that they are here, and that is what matters.

And I mean it. But it hurts my heart to see the effort I put toward school promotion this year seem to have had no effect whatsoever. It hurts to have to continue to be positive about it, because, if I’m not, I’m not sure who will be.

Switching gears a little. Tonight I finally got to see “X-Men: Days of Future Past” with a friend.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know that Wolverine goes back in time to prevent something horrible from happening. (Warning: Spoilers ahead.) In the process, he runs back into one of my new heroes, Professor X. But things have gone horribly wrong. The school is all but empty, and Professor X has sunk into alcoholism and self-medicating, even to the point of stunting his powers because it makes him “feel too much.”

Of course the empty school struck an instant chord, and when somebody mentioned that the last time they’d used the tool Cerebro was “to find students for the school,” I leaned over and drily whispered to my friend, “It’s like NWCHS.” My friend bumped my shoulder reassuringly and the movie continued.

Wolverine, whose gifts do not exactly lie in the realm of subtle persuasion, is in a tight spot as he tries to convince Professor X to pick up the pieces of his life. It takes past Professor X talking to present Professor X to get there (It did actually make a tremendous amount of sense). As part of this exchange, though, Professor X has to wade through all the pain and loneliness that is Wolverine’s history. Wolverine redirects his focus so he can find his younger self–then, before it is all over, Wolverine charges him to find the future students and teachers whose stories he’d seen.

“I’ll do my best,” says Professor X, looking a little worried.

“Your best is good enough,” says Wolverine.

And with that, Professor X– and Miss Heins– suddenly receive the bolstering we need to keep going.

My best is good enough. The enormity of the task is not my problem. It’s God’s. And I am simply His servant. My best is good enough. And, exactly like Professor X, my “best” is not nearly as much about saving a school as it is about the individuals who have gone through that school. Imperfect, hurting, beautiful individuals, not unlike Wolverine and Storm and Rogue and the others– individuals whose stories have held pain and problems and will continue to hold pain and problems, but who have been given hope. They have been given a chance to be part of a tiny community that grows and aches and stretches and smiles together. And many of them have been given hope in various ways. I even dare to think that some of them would look back on their time so far and see the pain and the joy and the late nights of homework and, like Wolverine, not mind having it stay just that way because they can see the value in it.

Professor X reminded his future self that he had to hold out hope to these people. Then he turned, promised to do his best, and was reminded by one of his own students that his best was good enough. And it was.

On second thought, maybe I can put on that happy face I need to put on. Maybe it doesn’t need to be an act. All I need to offer is hope, and all I need to do is my best. I think, between God and me, we can pull that off.