Thursday, February 28, 2008

Tough transition in the making

Since I've been more vocal about my plans (what with having to brag about my unbelievable grades and how smart I am), there have been some unanticipated side effects: mainly, talking about quitting teaching is damn scary.

I had no idea how much of my identity was wrapped up in the word "teacher." It is me. When I'm in school. At home. On dates. On the street. I am a teacher, not as a profession, but as myself. When I give up teaching, I will be giving up a huge part of who I am. I'll fill that space, eventually, with something else, but it will never be the same and there's a strong feeling of loss there.

Next week is the last week of the trimester, and I'd be lying if I said that carrying twelve credits and teaching six classes and trying to keep up with grading and working with a student teacher (and training for a half-marathon, and...I could go on and on) wasn't totally kicking my ass. I am one hundred percent beaten down right now. And though I am being careful to take time for myself, it comes at a cost that eventually has to be paid up.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

From English teacher, part 2

Last Saturday I went out for lunch with a former student, Zach. I first met Zach during his senior year in the winter of 2004, just a few short months after his younger brother had been killed in a car accident. One of our first conversations was about his brother because the first class assignment is on The Scarlet Ibis, a story about a boy and his brother's death. I remember that I wanted to give him the option to do an alternative assignment, but when I was talking to him I couldn't look him in the eye.

Zach became one of my favorite students. Teachers try not to have favorites, but the fact is it's just like any other type of job where you get along with some people really well, just click with them. Zach and I have a lot in common, and the strength he showed after his brother's death taught me a lot. He turned in an 'assignment' to me once, an essay about his brothers (there are five boys in all) and it still today is the most moving piece of writing I've ever read by a student. He became my student aide, and we've kept in touch since his graduation in 2005.

When we were chatting over lunch, he told me that I had impacted him and that I was one of the best teachers he had ever had. Let me tell you...that means something. I know I can't change every life I encounter--I teach almost 500 kids a year--but to know that I did change a life, for the better, gives me pause.

There is an honor in the title "teacher." I have always identified myself as a teacher, and I hope that even in my capacity as a funeral director I will be able to "teach"--to help people look at something in a new way, to guide them, to give them the tools and knowledge they need in order to become something more than what they were before I met them. But, there's a huge difference between spending a year with someone and cultivating that level of trust and admiration required for real teaching to take place. Can I do it with someone who is in crisis? In a few days? I don't know. And if I can't, it's the number one thing I'll miss about teaching. Hands down.

Friday, February 15, 2008

From English teacher

I have a student teacher for the next few months. It's an interesting position to be in: to be leaving the profession while trying to guide someone into getting into it. He knows that I'm not much longer for the teaching world.

Yesterday he had a total meltdown. Epic variety. The same meltdown that every teacher has had at least once: where he wondered if he was meant to teach and thought about quitting but couldn't quite manage to quit because of that pesky work ethic. Been there, done that. He came back today and had a much better day, which is typically what happens in the teaching world.

The struggle for me is to convince him that teaching is a fantastic profession; that it is noble and valuable and rewarding and that if you are a good teacher you absolutely should be in the classroom..........without convincing myself of it. Trust me, I'm quite a persuasive person. And when I talk to him I think "I'm right. Teaching IS fantastic." And then I wonder why I'm leaving. And I mean really why I'm leaving...because I don't think I'm completely being honest with myself about that. I think a part of me wants out because if I stay in teaching much longer then it means that I'm really getting older. I don't know. There's something there, for sure. But when I tell him that I love to teach, I'm not lying. All of the things I say about teaching--the good things--are true. So why am I leaving?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

90 Day Jane a hoax

Of course it was.

She says:
"My closeness to this project must have made art seem like reality to many people. That is not a reaction that I expected nor can I morally justify. This is why my project, 90DayJane, will be taken down in the next few hours. 90DayJane was meant to mirror the tragic figure, Christine Chubbuck. Newscaster Christine Chubbuck committed suicide in 1974 by shooting herself in the head live on air. She was very vocal about her depression to those around her and gave every indication of her exact intentions leading up to the event. Sadly, no one reacted or helped Christine and those left behind could only ask “why”. Her story both inspired and terrified me because I can truly empathize with her rage and even her isolation. I wondered how Christine’s life and subsequent suicide would play out in our time. Would the internet be yet another place of isolation to her or an escape?"

I'm less angry with her than I was yesterday. I don't know why I was angry with her in the first place, but I obviously was. Her explanation, though, gives her at least a little credit. I'm familiar with Christine Chubbuck (sorry, the only place that actually gives info in a concise way is Wikipedia) and her story is insanely tragic....though I'm not sure of the purpose of "imitating" it.

Whatever. Onto the next thing, I guess.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Very interesting...

This doesn't deal so much with my experience as with death in general, but it's on my mind, so you get to read it.

Jodi posted a link to a site called "90 Day Jane" on her blog. "90 Day Jane" is a countdown to suicide. A ninety day countdown. "Jane" believes that life is pointless that she needs to spend 90 days preparing for her death and telling the entire internet about it. Uh huh.

I've been thinking about Jane...some people buy it, some don't. I don't really care if she does it or not, but I have to say that there are some things that should be kept private and suicide is one of them. Not only does this site totally glorify the concept of "the countdown" that some people go through when they attempt suicide, but it takes suicide and makes a joke out of it. If she truly doesn't care, then she should shut up and do it. If she truly has such little respect for life, then do it, but don't bother the internet with it. There's enough crap out there.

I have friends who have lost family and people they love to suicide. I've lost a friend to suicide. Suicide is not a joke, it's an act of ultimate desperation. And while there are few things I can think of that are more selfish in this life than suicide, bragging about it all over the internet has to be toward the top of the list. I can't judge anyone who has committed suicide, it's just not fair. It's disrespectful to their families and to their loved ones to do so. Who I do judge, though, are people who use suicide or the threat of it as some sort of a stunt. Surely the meaning of life has not disintegrated to the level where even the breath that flows in your own lungs is no longer sacred? Learning all of the things I have been--the biological processes in place--life is intentional. And if a person truly sees no way out, then I pity him. If a person plays with suicide as some sort of joke, then shame on her. Shame on you, "90 Day Jane."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Death Dreams: Part 2

Death Dreams Part 1 happened about two months ago. I wasn't surprised that it happened again--I'm kind of surprised that I don't have them every night.

In this dream I was on the job in the coroner's office in the morgue, but it was my first day. Doc. Robbins from CSI was there and he was leading me into the room. I had my eyes covered up and he kept asking me if I was going to be okay and I kept saying "I don't know." I was trying to sniff the air because I figured the place would smell terrible, but it didn't. I finally open my eyes and I'm standing in front of about ten bodies on gurneys...that are all sitting up. They're all dead; some are peaceful looking, like they fell asleep and died, while others have terrified looks on their faces.

I begin working on a girl who is 23 years old. I was supposed to remove her jeans and her socks. Her jeans were my same Banana Republic skinny jeans (I wore them on Friday). I took care of them, folded them up, then decided to snoop around the place. I started looking in drawers and cabinets and I came across the test score cards of the two women I was working with--both of them had gotten a 68 out of 100 on the Official Mortician Exam. I remember thinking "I can do way better than a 68."

So, this dream combined my a) fascination yet fear of the dead, b) my financial concerns--the jeans represent that, and c) my obsessive-compulsiveness about getting good grades. It's nice of my dreams to work triple-time for me. I expect that my death dreams will become crazier as I get further into my studies and my brain continues to process everything that's happening to me. I will, of course, post them.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Oh yeah, I've got time for this...

Panic attacks have set in. Tonight I've had three of them in as many hours. The first happened when I walked back into my death/dying classroom after a lovely discussion on organ donation, DNRs, and how to figure out if someone is really dead to get my purse. That was the worst because it's the first one I've had in a few years and I totally wasn't expecting it. The last two haven't been quite as bad--have been able to breathe through them.

Panic attacks are so ridiculous. But they are, unfortunately, a sign of impending doom. They mean that I have to chill things out a bit. Sadly, with the way things are, that's not possible at this time. So, I need to suck it up. I know that sounds a little harsh, but the fact is that I've already cut out everything that's cutoutable. I'm not going out, I'm not seeing anyone, I'm going to work, school, home, the chiropractor and yoga. And the lab.

And yet---I'm loving school, I really am. I love taking notes, love walking from class to class with my books, love learning new stuff. So, at the end of the day, is it worth it? Absolutely. And this is short term stress--brought on because I'm not as dumb as I was when I was eighteen. The end of this process is definitely worth the short term pain that comes along the way. Nothing worthwhile comes completely easily, right?

Monday, February 4, 2008


I mooched The Death of Ivan Illyich because it was mentioned as "required reading" by a doctor specializing in Palliative Care on a video I watched last week in Death/Dying. I'm really surprised I haven't heard of it. Quite excited to begin it--possibly tonight but I've got a ton of biology to do and instead of studying I spent an hour yapping on the phone with Erica.

All is well in the academic world...still trying to find my groove. I think I had it in the beginning but it slipped a bit when Jessie came to visit. Now I need to refocus and redouble my efforts. If that's possible.