When you leave you must remember to come back for the others. A circle, understand? You will always be Esperanza. You will always be Mango Street. You can’t erase what you know. You can’t forget who you are. – Sandra Cisneros
My house lies hollow and empty now, with a new septic tank that only cost 500 dollars more than they said it would, and, even though I bought the house for 225,000 dollars when I needed a place to go in 2008, it sold for 179,000, not including the 5,000 in closing costs. As Kurt Vonnegut would say, “and so it goes.”
Silver polishing and beating the rugs
I sold all of my belongings, including things from before my past. Things that great grandmothers bought for their houses in Lancaster, Long Island, Chilmark, or Buffalo, so that servants would have something to polish or beat the dust out of with a broom. I left my small pots and pans, blankets, trinkets, blenders and coffee makers on the side of the road for someone else to clutter her house with for free. I threw away my fourth grade Captain John Smith report, and the secret club box with an invented language from second grade. Now my past rests in the Peterborough recycling center — tiny pieces of scrunched handwriting, figure skating badges and songs from camp.
Shedding the past
By shedding my past, I can start living the next book in my life. A new beginning of bright sunrises, scorching heat, travelling by foot, water or air and adventures in the orient and beyond! All of the people waiting out in the world that I have not met. A new career to carry me along. Writing stories that will shout out to the world. No more having to talk so loud and never be heard. I feel like Belle in her opening song for Beauty and the Beast.
At home things look the same. And the saplings I planted in the back yard 28 years ago are tall enough to block the junkyard neighbors we used to have. The black flies still bite, people go to work and come back again to walk their dogs or mow the lawn. And I am not there dying in my old job, getting tangled up in ownership, landlordship and broken septic systems.
My walkabout continues.
I am ready to fly to the east and back again a million times. All that I love at home — my friends, my children, my father, nature, and bacon cheeseburgers — will always be within reach. My freedom is lighter than it has ever been before.
In three weeks I go home to sell my house. A breaking point in my journey. Job offers are beginning to come in, which makes me thoughtful and a tiny bit flattered. To all of them, I want to say yes. A job helping teachers teach in Columbia, another job helping American teachers problem solve on-line, another on-line job teaching English at a Vietnamese university. How can I do them all and not leave my job here behind? My ultimate goal is to juggle all of these jobs remotely, which means scaling back on the one I have, which I am not ready to do yet. There is so much to learn. I want to learn how to be an instructional designer, but all of these opportunities would support that as well. Once I opened the door and left ConVal, the world opened up and it is hard not to grab it all up at once.
Expatriate living pulls people like me together. People who do not quite fit into the routine world of one culture. The sensitivity that we have to the logic of the world turns us into introverts in the rat race careers that we hold until we realize this. During my walkabout, I have deep connections with people who, like me, feel as they do not belong in this world. I have always struggled to wrap my mind around what people do and the decisions that they make especially in education.
I do not understand why educators pile students into little slots like pigs for the slaughter and lie to them about their future. School is incomparable to anything they will ever experience when they leave it.
We tell them that they need school, when what they really need to do is hold onto their curiosity and wonder.
I once taught at a school that everyone considered was a dump. It was in a small factory town where everyone knew everyone else, where some parents did not have teeth, and some did, some students had no parents and were living with friends, some students came from hard-working middle-class families. In my first year, four of my students were pregnant, one probably by a family member. This was a town where the nation had decided to dump its nuclear waste. This was a town with that kind of reputation.
But this was a magical place to teach. This was a place where brainstorming sessions were simple: what do you mean you have nothing to write, one student would say, remember that time your father lost his finger in the logging accident or the time you tried to shoot the deer that hopped over you with a bow, or when your father left you in the woods alone all day to turn you into a man? And the girls had more tender stories to tell about boys, about sneaking out of the house, running away, school, being homeless, under the surface girl stories.
This was a school that solved the chronic scheduling problem that schools have. The reason why so many students sit in classes that they did not sign up for: scheduling. Early in the morning, each teacher would set up a table in the gym with one list for each course that she taught and on it twenty slots for the number of students who could sign up for the class. At 7:35 on the Monday of arena scheduling, the gym doors would open and the seniors would stream in to sign up for an essential course, or a favorite teacher. Students got what they wanted, teachers got students who wanted to be there and all was harmonious. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fair share of classes where six out of the twelve students dropped out the minute they were 16, but if students made it to their senior year, this system worked. The beauty of it was that the students chose who they wanted to teach them and what they wanted to learn.
Ten years later, after four years of being a full-time mother, I taught in a school with a good reputation. It was not a community; it was a farm. Small communities were set up in classes, which dissolved after 18 weeks, never to be formed again. Students were from rich, middle class, poor or no families at all. They were separated economically under the guise of intelligence. Students with disabilities were in one room, emotionally disturbed in another, the middle class took the mediocre classes and the rich took the honors classes. The teachers were segregated by departments. Great teachers and a great principal taught in their own bubbles that rarely touched.
So I gave up because I just couldn’t accept working in isolation. My passion for teaching students to take responsibility for their own critical thinking was too strong. My intolerance for mediocrity was too strong. I was too strong. People wanted to sail, but to me, they were setting off on the Titanic. I got off the boat as it sank — perpetually.
I hung in there for 24 years while the ship kept its bow above the water. And then I set sail for Mexico and then to Malaysia. And it as if the world has opened itself up to me. I can keep my ideas to myself; I can support e-learning, which I think is the answer to education. I can live in the world community and embrace what it gives to me every day.
In the House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros, the three witches tell the protagonist, life’s a circle, you understand. You have to leave in order to come back. The protagonist had to leave the world in which she was stuck, the world in which her cousin’s Cadillac couldn’t escape because the streets were so narrow. Sometimes you need to step out of the cycle to understand it. I am coming to the understanding that my physical journey will take me back to the states, but spiritually, emotionally, maybe my place is just right here with me. Maybe I can be my place. My place, my bliss.