Tulsa… Let Me Try to Explain

Tulsa, 1921

It seems like I’ve spent a lot of Saturday mornings on the couch this semester, struggling with one ailment or another.  I’ve been sick at heart, sick to my stomach, and –like today– fever-fighting through every minute of spare time for four months straight.  Trying to inspire adolescents all week–not to mention keep them from murdering each other–is surprisingly exhausting.

Today, though, couch-time has been animated by the front door flung open to a seemingly spring day.  Roommate Caroline has been dancing around productively, eating pumpkin bread as she cleans around me.  We are listening to the unscratched sides of all the albums in her collection.  Today, I don’t really mind being sick at all.

I wore myself out this morning, wandering around downtown Tulsa pretending I didn’t have a fever.  It had been a long time since I walked alone.  Back in college, that was my story.  I would wander to a coffee shop, do the work I had to do, and then walk home, mulling over whatever subject I had just absorbed for credit.  Papers on Beowulf would turn into long journal entries that maybe meant nothing to anyone else, but the act of writing them kept me a creative contributor to something… else.  The things I read, observed, or overheard in my life in Madison I would transform into something entirely personal.   I knew at the time that maybe the connections I was drawing weren’t worth publication, but that was not the point.

Well, I don’t really ruminate on Beowulf anymore.  I don’t read much about monasticism or gardening or Buddhist essays on social justice.  These days, I Teach.

Writing about teaching low-income students is a tricky situation.  See?  I just erased and re-wrote “low-income” three times before I decided it would be an okay contribution to what I am trying to say.  Writing about teaching is like running head first into a brick wall in every direction.  Either I am exploiting my students, or I’m being insincere, or I’m saying what’s already been said, or I’m picking at a wound I’m not ready to expose.

I guess I’m writing this today because I’m struggling with the following conundrum:

I want to write.

I usually write about things I experience.

Right now, I cannot write about the things I experience because they are just too fucked up.

I expect that if I wrote about something else, it would help me to cope with those things that are just too fucked up.

But considering all the… things.  All the things I have seen in the last year.  So many… things.

How do I write about anything else?

Come on.  In the last two years I have moved across the country… by myself.  I dove head-first into a new career.  I’ve met 400 people, done 4000 things I could write about.  I’ve met my future husband, gotten engaged.  But the things that matter?  The horrible, destructive, soul-annihilating, hope-destroying things I have seen since I’ve started working with these children?  How do I write about those?  Writing about life’s little “adventures” do not cut-it-right-now.

The instinct to write about my experience in Teach For America is overwhelming.  My fingers are dying to flip through the keys at light speed, capturing their story and my story once and for all for my own sake, but just as no one could possibly write about the horrors of the CT shootings this week, or about any other inexplicable tragedy, neither can I write about what is happening to the kids I teach… and to me.

Let me be clear for anyone who is reading this, thinking I am some noble person for wanting to write the truth down.  This urge to explain is not born of some loyalty to my students, or love for them, or the “mother hen” instinct I honestly wish were there, that I need to share their “story”.  This urge to do the story justice comes from sheer exasperation.  That things are this bad.  That children can be so out of control.  That the human heart can be warped so extremely my poverty, in both young and old.  I need to make sense of it all.

I’m sure that six months of distance from my current experience will be enough time to start the writing/healing process.  I will lose my anger.  Memory will provide sufficient gloss.  Problem is, I want to write NOW.  It doesn’t matter if it’s any good, it doesn’t matter if anyone reads it.  I need to write, because that’s what I’ve always done.  The “unexamined life” and so forth. And I know that the version I start writing here six months from now won’t be the real story.

Seriously though, what the fuck do I say right now?

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~ by Rachael on December 15, 2012.

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