Almost everything I know has changed since separating and then being divorced. One of the biggest issues I’ve been dealing with is depression, and that — and some of its causes — has led me to the belief that I no longer know who I am.
The depression has roots and symptoms that I’m not ready to talk about publicly, and those don’t really apply to this discussion about my loss of identity. So, for now, these are the issues on the table …
In December of last year I walked away from teaching high school. It wasn’t wholly my choice, and I didn’t mean for it to be an end to that aspect of my life. I’d changed jobs and had only been at this particular school since August. The principal and I argued a lot over the grades of students who simply refused to do any work. She wanted me to pass them, and I refused. She decided to get rid of me using bad evaluations, threats, and finally manipulating my students to speak against me. We came to the agreement I would resign. I overestimated the December job market for English teachers. In other words, I couldn’t find a job.
I finished the year teaching kindergarten for a charter school where I thought I’d been hired to teach at their new high school this fall, only to find out that no, they’re keeping me in the elementary school. I renewed my job search, applying all over the metro to every school district with an English opening, but I only got one callback, and that junior high decided on a different candidate after I did a pair of interviews.
This fall I will be teaching a blended 5th/6th grade class.
It was hard not teaching my usual AP Literature curriculum this past school year. I struggled at the high school I was at because the kids were accustomed to not having to work, so they didn’t. Then I went to kindergarten where, instead of teaching the symbolism of great novels I was trying to teach energetic, unfocused 5 year olds the sounds of letters, the name and value of coins, and how to write numbers to 100.
My identity as a teacher is, if not gone, reshaped into something that doesn’t fit me.
Then came the rejection letter for a young adult novel called Afterlife. I wrote this novel years ago and a certain editor I’m already working with promised to look at it when another book was in the editing stages. Literally, it took years before she agreed to look at it, and then she rejected it. My ego, grown fragile through the divorce and the job situation and horrible sales of my self-published books, just couldn’t take that blow.
I haven’t written since December when I separated from that high school. I can’t call it writer’s block. I don’t even sit down to try. I have an office in my new house, but I seldom bother to enter it. I simply don’t have the motivation. With that rejection letter, I was ready to give up. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Who would care? Based on the poor sales and scant reviews, hardly anybody.
A former student messaged me last week. We’d talked about writing a book together. I’m ashamed to say I kind of unloaded on her, giving her a dose of my negativity that I suspect she never even knew I was capable of. At least, I hope I never showed my students just how dark I could be. It didn’t faze her. By the end of our conversation we’d worked out the basics of a plot and agreed to try the project.
Then I talked to someone else very close to me and told her I was thinking about quitting and why. She told me exactly what I knew she would. “Why does it have to be about the money?” she demanded. “Why can’t you just do it because you love it? I love to sing and dance, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop singing and dancing because nobody’s paying me to do it.”
Today the mother-in-law of that first student messaged me; she’s a former co-worker of mine, too. She’s also been looking for teaching jobs and sharing the listings she finds with me. I told her today I’m staying where I am. She suggested I sell my lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers, and … once again I let the depression out of the bag and explained nobody would buy my lesson plans because I barely plan lessons. I come to class with topics to discuss and if the students haven’t read, I’m wrecked because I suddenly have nothing. Then she started talking about my book about teaching, You Want to Do What? and how she loved it. I don’t know. It was nice to hear her praise and encouragement. The book hasn’t sold well despite a decent first week and my most aggressive marketing campaign.
So, who am I? I don’t know. Not a high school English teacher, and that alone is hard to get my head around. Can I be effective at the elementary level? I don’t know. Am I going to be the best-selling author I’ve dreamed of becoming since the mid-1980s? No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Can I accept the fact I’m likely going to have to self-publish pretty much everything I write for what seems to be a dwindling fan base and keep writing anyway? On that, we’ll have to wait and see, but I do feel a little of the old spark. I’m re-reading my most recent incomplete manuscript and a couple of shorter things under one of my pseudonyms, so we’ll see.
The fact I wrote this post, only my second this year, is a good start, I think.