Twice in our end-of-year Language Arts circle in June, teachers said they were going to use the summer to figure out who they were. One said she was going to figure out who she was when she’s not here, because the last school year had hollowed her out. The other said she needed space to remember who she is again.
As I sat and listened (because I hardly ever share much of significance, being the private person I am), I thought of the quote from The Tumbling Turner Sisters, a book I was reading at the time: “There’s something to that…What you have when you’re just you.”
So I started to think, “What is it that any of us have? Are we ever just who we are anymore? How do we accomplish just being ourselves?” People, jobs, expectations all pull us like taffy, stretching us out and shaping us, in little and big ways, to what they want us to be.
Too often I fall into the trap of “Well, this person has this…” or “This person has done…” and I weigh and find myself wanting. I think, “I could only be better if…” or “Everything would be different if…” or “I wish…” instead of living with a mindset of growth and gratitude. I can’t be everything to everyone, nor should I ever try, though it seems I always have. Too often, I let everyone else pull me in so many different directions, I begin to not know which way is home, which way is to my own heart. So, this summer, I stepped back from those expectations. I deliberately pulled away from everything and everyone but my immediate family and friends.
This summer, I accepted a new job, and despite the stress I know will accompany the transition, I have not let it touch me. I have breathed deeply, especially on the two separate days I moved my classroom materials—extensions of my home and heart—out of one building and into another, very physical representations of this new journey in my life. The actual transition is rapidly approaching, and as it nears I feel my shoulders tense more, but then I remember to breathe. As my husband reminds me, “You can do this.”
This summer, I did not touch my writing, apart from listing “Writing” and “Submissions” on a to-do list. I pulled away of this expectation I have, mainly of myself, and allowed my mind to quiet down a little before wondering why I have been writing again: is it for me? or is it for others? is it both? is that ok? should I keep writing? should I let other people with far better voices say all of the things? These are things I still mull over on a daily basis. But for now, I have let the expectation and stress of writing go…and I gave every rejection I’ve received over summer a shrug instead of the middle finger. Progress, I suppose.
This summer, I received my acceptance letter for graduate school. I will [finally] begin my MA in English, nearly ten years after I graduated with my BA. I started my undergraduate late, so I suppose it only makes sense every other degree in my life would be a bit tardy as well. Regardless, this is a thing I am excited for, despite knowing that it, too, will pull pieces of me away from my core. I love being a student. I love learning. I love thinking about literature and writing differently. I’m counting down the days until I start.
This summer, I set foot in the salty Pacific again, and stood as it pulled and pushed at my feet, and I breathed deeply as I shook in the presence of a spirit so much bigger than me. The ocean is my zen, it is my soul’s home, and I hadn’t touched one on either coast for four years. It was past due.
This summer, I worked alongside my husband and daughter and we moved near-literal mountains of rock with our hands and feet to finish a huge yard project over a year in the works. We talked, laughed, snapped, grumbled, told “that’s what she said” jokes, and toiled through layers of dirt and frustration to make something beautiful. We did this thing together.
This summer, I reminded myself I cannot always be outraged. There are many things in this world that are unacceptable; there are many things that make me afraid for my children’s futures; there are far too many things that need to change. But, there are many things in this world that bring me joy: hugs from my son; Blizzards from Dairy Queen with my daughter (though infrequently); clouds; laughing with my husband; a very good “that’s what she said” joke; sunlight; strawberry-açai refreshers from Starbucks; books; my dog and cat; coffee. I am a fairly sensitive person, and when people around me (even if not immediately) are frustrated and outraged, I find myself internalizing that and making it a part of me. It becomes, much of the time, overwhelming, and it affects the way I operate. It was starting to affect me negatively, and therefore it affected everything—and more importantly everyone—in my life. I do not mean to say that I am not aware of current events, that I don’t pay attention. But I have to keep looking for good things, for love, for light, for happiness and joy. I found many of those things again.
This summer, I taught Little to car dance to Beyoncé (he prefers “All Night” from LEMONADE, and I’m working to expand his foray into Queen Bey’s kingdom). I learned that working alongside my daughter helps us communicate better, and helps us be more ourselves when we talk. I visited Harry Potter World and now have my own wand, plus various other souvenirs. It was amazing. Little has slept with Trevor the Toad every night since I gave it to him. I chaperoned a brilliant former student to the College Board national AP conference, and watched her shine on stage as she shared her story (also, as a perk, I visited Disneyland and the Pacific). I fell even more in love with the book-lover’s app, Litsy. You should join. I’m hwheaties there. I’ve read fourteen books since the beginning of summer (as defined by the last day of the school year). I saw Ghostbusters and I loved it. We moved furniture within the house to make it more our own (after four years) and I got new bookshelves (they are, for the record, nearly full already). I watched some of the Harry Potter films again, which is a separate joy all its own. My husband and I finally made it into the season of The Walking Dead currently on Netflix…though we didn’t finish. I breathed deeply, and took moments for myself where all I did was sit by the pool and read, or listen to music, or just be.
This summer, I cared for myself, my heart, my family, and my home. And I am happy now to remember what it is to be “just [me].”