Things That You Love Should Be Things That You Do

I am right smack in the middle of my thirtieth year. Which is to say I’m 29. Which is to say my legs look different, somehow, around the knees. Which is to say I paint my nails bold colors and wear sensible shoes. Which is to say I’ve made some decisions.

I began teaching when I was 22. I was pregnant. I needed a job. My husband at the time was cutting grass. We needed health insurance that would not consider pregnancy a “pre-existing condition.” I was an emergency hire and thankful.

Cut to eight years later. I’ve been writing off and on throughout my teaching career. What brought me to teaching was the writing, the stories, the humanity. I am no hero–I’ve never had any grand notions of sacrificing myself for students who need saving. And yet. There are times when what we do within these four cinder-block walls drives a child to put words on a page that move me to tears. Visceral. Language you can smell, language you can walk around inside of.

I’ve always been driven by story. Always. When I was a little girl, I lived in my grandmother’s stories. She told beautiful stories about her twin sisters, Marie and Larue, born so small you could put a tea cup over their heads, slept side-by-side with a heated brick between them, tucked into my great-grandmother’s dresser drawer in the dead of a Tennessee winter. I listened to sermons for the stories that started them. I watched my father tell stories with his hands, loud-laughing at his own words to patients, to relatives, to the dinner table, who laughed along with him. My whole life.

In many ways, quitting teaching and starting a whole new career feels a lot like getting divorced. It’s a loss, but there’s a sense of rightness about it. There’s things I’ll miss, sure. My colleagues, my students, people. I’ll miss the people. It’s hard to miss any institution.

There was this moment. Right after my ex-husband moved out. When I found myself at home alone on, say, a Tuesday. And it was so peaceful. I vacuumed. The sun was pouring through the leaves beyond my windows. Choices: a cup of coffee, a load of laundry, a phone call.

In moments like this, I can do with my life what writers do with words to a page: world building, shaping a story, making & learning characters. In order to do this, you have to know what you want. It should come as no surprise that what I want is a life full of people and stories. All kinds of people. All kinds of stories. I want a life full.

Already I’ve been surprised by the places we’ve found stories in our new work. There’s so much beauty in people. In truth. I’ve fallen in love with everything local. I’ve fallen in love with hands that make things, with people who stop living one dream to pursue another, truer one. My favorite stories are the ones where people become successful doing something you never dreamed a person could be successful at. The videos we’ve made in my new life’s work, Room Eleven Media, tell these kinds of stories.

This, my thirtieth year, is the year of jumping off a cliff and building my wings on the way down. It’s a year of risk, a year of choice.

I have ten weeks left of teaching. A balancing act. I’m finding myself loving my students so much. I’m loving my colleagues for the coffee mugs they drink from, for their words of encouragement, for their voices coming through my wall, “You can do this. You can. Try. Come on.”

A Day Just Like This One

Today we made our way to Decatur for the largest independent book festival in the nation. We took the MARTA train. Public transportation always seems to smell like pennies and the hospital and hair and old sweatshirts and the palms of hands, and, in a strange way, I kind of like it. The cacophony of city sounds held my brain in a kind of cocoon: conversations in other softer languages, loud young mouths shouting about winning the lottery and clapping their hands stomping their feet, the roar of the train being sucked into its tunnels and back out again.

We heard Thomas Lux and Ellen Bryant Voigt talk about poetry and read some too. They both talked about how poetry is an act of discovery. How it’s important to challenge yourself, put yourself into a circumstance of not-knowing, which is the human condition, really. How the work of working through a poem or any piece of writing is what invites the discovery. How a poem without discovery is wooden. How if there’s no discovery for the writer, there’s no discovery for the reader. How poetry is composed of the most everyday moments of insight and appetite.

We schlepped back through the festival and around the corner for a Bees Knees Royale (read: gin, honey, lavendar, cava, citrus), then struck out again into the pitch-perfect September air that made our walk to the MARTA station feel like a gift. At the bottom of the stairs we descended to catch our train, there was a red balloon on a short string tied to the trashcan. The balloon felt like a poetic moment, even if its insight has escaped me.

We got home around 4:00 and did next-to-nothing until dinner at 10:30 at a funny little place around the corner. And, with Roger Miller pumping through the speakers, it was there that I had the best and lustiest buttermilk biscuit of my life. We had a lovely strange dinner of succotash and gnocci and yum. One Root Beer Float with vanilla rum and an umbrella straw later, and all 28 years of me are ready for bed.