I’m writing from the itsy-bitsy town of Moro. It’s precisely 12:50 in the afternoon on Friday, September 10, and I’ve just been offered the job in La Grande. But I need to share with you all that’s transpired since I last wrote.
Wednesday: I was writing an article for a magazine when I got another phone call for an interview in Tualatin. This is a temporary for one year, half-time job for ESL. I would teach every other day. Tualatin is about 45 min. and 35 miles from my sister’s gallery in Camas. She’s been telling us that she could have all kinds of work for Paul – teaching art classes, covering the gallery, helping with murals, etc.
The interview goes great. It was a panel consisting of the principal, vice-principal, and the ESL staff. I know after the interview that I would like these people very much. That I would enjoy meeting them for happy hour to talk shop and they would compliment me on something that I wear and I would notice their new hair-do. But while I’m interviewing, I feel like a subversive.
I tell them that I love kids and that I enjoy getting them to learn. I love to share good stories with them and I want to help them to love the English language and to become master of it. This is all true. What I don’t tell them is that I feel like Jack Nicholson’s character in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. I’m just pretending to want to be here for the money. I would rather break the kids out of the public school prison and watch them lift their faces to the sun and the breeze. Teach them to identify a flower or a bird and to draw what they see. Have them write three sentences about something that matters rather than a page of something that doesn’t. Have them memorize proverbs about life. Listen to Greek myths, Bible stories, and go on adventures with Bilbo and Ishmael, or Anne and Huck. They could draw why they listen on picnic blankets and I won’t make them fill in any blanks on a worksheet. While eating egg-salad sandwiches and apple pie, I’d ask them to tell me what happened and they’d share in that easier setting and if they were shy, I’d be okay with just a few sentences until they warm up. Then, for the little ones, I’d ask them to copy a sentence or two that was written by a master. And for the slightly more advanced, I’d read those sentences aloud and have the students write them down and try and get the spelling right and the grammar too. They’d check it and correct it and then they could play while I bury myself away in a book and their pretend is more real because I’m not watching or paying attention. They’d come back after awhile and I’d set them to reading a book by someone great – by someone who’s won an award and not by someone who decided to get rich by writing expensive textbooks that starve kids of any pleasure in reading. Those people are banned. We’d do some math next and they would just start where they are and move forward when they’ve mastered it. There’s no test hovering over them, no pressure on the teacher to get all these lovely, divine individuals to be “proficient.” There’s just learning and moving forward, gently and steadily. All this is going on in my head while I drone on and on about respecting diversity and my teaching philosophy which is a very much-modified of above-said. I shake hands and look interested and comment on the one nice big window where the kids can get a bit of sunlight as they walk through the halls with posters fluttering from them. The smell of too many teenagers pressed together for too many hours fills my nostrils. I’m such a liar. A poser. I am being totally dishonest and I feel a little guilty.
But I’m trying to do what’s right and respectable. I need to get a job to support my family and in a recession I need to suck it up and just do it. I’m supposed to take pride in helping children learn (which I do), but all the while despising the system I work for. All the while hoping it will admit that it has failed and do what is needed – die. People would have to teach their kids from home or work together in their community to create small, multi-age schools. And without the government involved, they’d have to be responsible for spending which means they would purchase: 1) math books 2) good books 3) paper 4) pens 5) pencils. I think the need to teach technology is ridiculous. Kids figure out whatever they need for the moment and if we teach them now what they’ll need to know in the future, it will be outdated information when they get there.
Anyway. I felt like a cad in that interview. I don’t like pretending to be someone I’m not. It seems unfair to all concerned. But I’m conflicted. I want to do my duty. As a wife, mother, and citizen. I owe money for my teacher’s education. I feel duped to discover that it was all a crock. I threw away everything I learned there. It was like my entire primary education – expensive (through taxes), contrived, and empty. I learned so much more on my mother’s knee than in the classroom.
They tell me they’ll call me in the morning, regardless. Afterward, I go to my sister’s house in Camas and she takes me out to margaritas and dinner. She’s gifted in the art of persuasion and … she wants me to go to Italy with her in a couple of weeks. Perhaps you’re wondering how I plan to do that when I seriously have $100 to my name. Answer: free airmiles and my sister’s patronage. Her motto this year – why not?
She relates to me a visit she got from a couple of creative guys. She tells them about my blog and he asks the loaded question, “So, they’re going to buck the establishment and travel and blog until … the establishment offers them a job?” Good point, mister. To sum up, I think a teaching job is a return to the mundane, plugging back into the Matrix, signing up for the establishment. But my sweet missionary grandparents say, “You’ve got to go where the work is. You don’t always get what you want.” Paul’s parents say, “You’ve got to grow up. You just need to go out there and get a job. Any job.” My parents say, “Oh, honey, what are you going to do? You can come live with us.” Our well-established, retired friends say, “You need the health care for you and the kids, and you should start saving now for retirement.”
I wonder if they’re all right in their own way, for their time, their journey. I wonder if I should follow their path. I wonder if Paul and I have the courage to strike out on our own. If we’ll ever stop following other people’s trails.
And I know, that whatever trail we take, my wagon is hitched to his. If I strike out on my own, he’d probably follow me, but (can I put this in print) there’s something unmanly about it. Deep in my heart, I want to be swept up in an adventure of his doing. Call me old-fashioned. Call me whipped (but anyone who knows me knows I’m not that). Call me brain-washed by the religious upbringing I had. Believe me, I don’t see any logical reason why I want him to lead or why he’s any more gifted than me at it. In fact, he’s not (he’d be the first to admit it). But the fact is, he always leads even if he doesn’t do a thing. Even if he (and Paul doesn’t) just sits there like a couch potato, it’s what everyone else wants to do. I’ve tried to skin this thing down and fight this thing tooth and nail and there’s only one answer: if it’s not his idea, it’s not going to happen – or it will happen in a bad way. Something precious will be lost.
So I’ve got this idea that he’s going to have to make the decision and with Paul that means one thing… waiting.
I sleep over at Elida’s and go to my next interview for the La Grande job. It’s a beautiful morning with the fog blurring the green hills. The Columbia marches toward the sea. I see a group of fishing boats that give me the same impression as a group of seagulls at a leftover picnic on the beach. At the Dalles, the evergreen covered hills rise to the west and the brown hills that look like huge hulking bodies of dinosaurs or dragons rise to the east. I see the white-clad windmills that look like huge aliens that invaded and now they are doing yoga salutations on our farmland.
Paul calls. I chat with him. He rehashes all the pros and cons of both jobs. Then, he says, “ I think we should ….” And perhaps providentially, my phone dies. I forgot my charger and I feel that panicky feeling that all people feel when they’re addiction is no longer available. I realize that I won’t hear about the Tualatin job and I have no way of contacting Paul if I’m offered the La Grande job.
I meet my prospective boss who is immediately a kindred spirit. After confessing that what I really want to do is to travel and write, he tells me that he’d want to be a farmer. He likes working with his hands and being outside. Instead, he’s on the computer for ten hours a day. We have a moment of silence, giving dead dreams their due.
We discuss the job. Lots of traveling, flexible hours. I press the point that I don’t want to move and can I do it from Prineville? He says that no, eventually I would need to locate. Then, I put out a “fleece,” as Elida likes to do and asked him about the possibility of my going to Italy in a couple of weeks. He laughed good-naturedly and answered quite frankly that, no, he’d begin looking for someone else. In the end, he offers me the job and I delay my decision.
I wrote all the above until 2 p.m. and then my computer battery ran out and I had to continue home. When I get home, I plug my phone in and check my voice mails. Paul tells me that he thinks I should accept the Tualatin job if I get it. Inside, well, I’m not going to say exactly what I’m feeling because he’s reading this too.
I’ve got a call from Tualatin. The job’s mine if I want it. I ask about benefits. Answer: no bennies for the family, just for me. Next, step: relay this information to Paul because that was kind of a kicker.
So, friends and family, there it is. That’s my last two days. Write me and let me know what you think. Love you all.