Wednesday, June 9, 2010

3: Last Year, and the Year Before

Part three of a series.

The whole while, you’re still teaching. You write a book about some kids who find out their teacher is a witch, and really it’s wish-fulfillment because you want to be the kind of teacher with a magic wand to fix things.

You wish you could fix more things. You report the bruises to the social service. You hold them when they cry. You send the pregnant ones to the nurse. You wish they’d listen to you when you tell them they’re making a mistake. But they never do.

You work hard on revising the new novel. You spend all Christmas break with highlighters and colored pens and go word-by-word, line-by-line with critique notes and everything else.

You’ve written this one for publication. You’re convinced it will succeed. You did everything right.

But the story isn’t there.

It’s roundly rejected.

You seriously consider giving up.

You’re good at teaching. In your first year, there were a half dozen new teachers. You and one more are all that’s left. You stuck with it. You have a good reputation at school—fun, but tough. You have all your lesson plans made. You don’t have to stay up all night to grade or plan. You can roll up in the morning and do a whole day easily. You’re not as exhausted as before.

When you get home, you try to open your door with your classroom key. You do this often. Home and class are almost synonymous.

You go to a retirement party for a woman who has worked at the school for longer than you’ve been alive. You imagine yourself at 65, retiring from the school.

You’ve been working at school for 6 years. You invest in a retirement plan. You settle in for the long haul. You work for one full year to get your National Board Certification. You know when to let a kid sleep through class, and when not to. You don’t give homework because you know they won’t do it. You know exactly how long it takes to read a story, or write an essay. You don’t need backup plans any more.

Some of the kids call you “mom” and you realize it’s a compliment.

You start writing something else.

When you finish it, you decide: if this one doesn’t go anywhere, it’s time to quit. You can’t do better than this. You don’t want to be a bitter old lady who never achieves her dreams. Better to not have any dreams at all than broken ones.

You tell yourself you don’t care if you fail, but you do. You tell yourself it’s not failing if you give up, but it is.

You’re afraid to send this one out.

If it fails, you fail.

You send it out anyway.

You start preparing to be a teacher, just a teacher.

You get some rejections.

Then you get interest. When you get an email that an agent wants to call you next Monday, you and your husband go out to dinner. You keep telling him, it may be nothing. It's not officially an offer, just interest. It will probably not go anywhere.

On Monday, you get an offer. By Wednesday, you’re lining up agent interviews. The next week, you sneak out during your breaks, sit in your car with a notepad propped up on your steering wheel, and take notes on agents.

You’re juggling being a teacher, while at the same time clutching your writing pen.

And you realize.

This is it.
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