I turned 44 last May. My 40s have not been kind to me. Many of the things which always defined me have faded away and become stale or meaningless. I include regular blogging (journaling too), dense reading, guitar playing, travel, running, weight lifting, drawing, meditation, Tai Chi–I could go on.
My dentist informed me that the pain in my jaw and the chips in my teeth are the result of nocturnal grinding and clenching. I have in the last few years developed chondromalacia in my knees, and in June I tore my left rotator cuff.
What caused this precipitous decline? What made me fall victim to a midlife crisis? I always thought I’d be immune to that sort of bullshit. When I turned 41 I ran a 5K and placed 20th out of 250 competitors. I ran it in less then 21 minutes without training. People always thought I was in my late 20s when they met me. I’ve aged a lot in the last couple years. I’ve been heavily self-medicating. My creative outlets have dwindled, my curiosity has disappeared, my intense interest in life and the world has vanished. My spark is smothered. Aging was not the cause–something was wrong.
Teaching in public schools caused it. In my late 30s I decided I needed to help kids in Baltimore City. I read about the system recruiting teachers in Africa and the Philippines because nobody domestically wanted to work there. I signed up, got certified in English and Social Studies, and took it on. I spent three years in shitty, violent, dangerous schools. I’m now in my fourth year at a really strong charter and though it’s a positive environment the workload kills me. I’m sick all the time, and I feel inadequate and incapable and it makes me miserable. Every day I think I’m not doing enough, I beat the shit out of myself.
But this week I started teaching a group of 4th graders who are advanced readers. At first I thought “Jesus, I can’t do this! I already have to teach Humanities to four classes of 7th and 8th graders, and I have to teach a French class. We create all our own curriculum at this school. I love this place, I love my kids, but I am fucking depleted and miserable all the time. How can I possibly add another job to my list?”
As a result I didn’t do much prep work. I was supposed to use a thick binder of some program to work with these kids. Instead I did what I intuitively thought needed to be done. I thought of myself as an advanced reader at that age, and what I would have liked to do. I improvised. I ignored data and methodology and theory. And we had an amazing time.
The kids’ parents–including two teachers at my school and the principal–all raved about me, and about how their kids talked about my reading group at home. Suddenly I felt like I didn’t need to get blitzed after work to unwind. I started doing my own PT to work my shoulder back into shape. I didn’t rush to the liquor store. I played guitar for the first time in a few years. I started reading deeply again.
I can do this. I will ignore what others tell me to do. I will say “fuck data” when people thrust data at me. Did Socrates use data when he taught Plato? Did the Egyptians use data to build the pyramids? I will follow my own soul. I will teach with my heart and my intuition, not my intellect. I created the above activity ten minutes before class. It was awesome.
I will be kinder to myself.