A Word or Two From the Complaints Department

stop-complaining-541x285People say, “Can’t complain” in response to the ubiquitous, “How’re you doing?” When I hear them, I think, “That should be my answer.”

Except I’d mean, “I have no right to complain,” which is to say, “I’d like to gripe about my petty troubles but would a. bore you and b. look unappreciative of my prosperity, good fortune, and privilege, especially compared to people who might complain and don’t.”

No one ever says, “I can complain.”

After my high school’s graduation, I begin a year-long paid sabbatical, so complaining is absolutely out. Every day, someone asks about my plans—I have it down to one sentence—and whether I’m excited, relieved, elated, grateful. Actually they say, “You must be fill-in-the-blank,” and I say “Of course I’m fill-in-the-blank,” but those emotions don’t—you know me—cover it.

Sometimes, on a short vacation, I feel that “hurry up and relax” pressure because time’s awastin’ on stress relief. I have a similarly paradoxical feeling now. “This is a once in a lifetime break,” I tell myself, “you better Get Something Done.” Then comes apprehension, fear, anxiety.

I want to confess I’m worried, but colleagues would sneer and think themselves better suited for this opportunity. They might punch me in the stomach.

My one sentence plan is to study schools that don’t give marks and alternative means of assessment that highlight intrinsic academic motivation. The next natural question is “Are you going to visit?” Yes, but have had barely a moment to contact schools that don’t give grades. Which begins my struggle:

  • Fantasy: I make amazing life-long connections with teaching professionals and hang out for days at fascinating, innovative institutions. Reality: So far, I’ve been given the dates for some open houses.
  • Fantasy: To prepare for my year, I brush up on basic psychology, read philosophy and other writing relevant to motivation (along with stuff about academic motivation), and take copious notes. Then, during my sabbatical, I contact authors to chat via Skype. Reality: I’ve read the introductions of a couple of books I got for my iPad. I don’t know how to Skype.
  • Fantasy: I begin writing a book and sending the opening and chapter outline to publishers and take up a 20-30 page daily writing habit. In my spare time, I take art lessons, enroll in workshops with a local playhouse, get certified as a personal trainer, and catalog all my creative output from the last two decades. Reality: The collection of teaching essays I wrote ten years ago are in an older version of Microsoft Word and, so far, unrecoverable. I changed my desktop picture to a doodle I made.

I imagine expressing my doubts, but people will think I’m lazy, need to “get on the stick”—whatever that means—and have stolen a sabbatical from someone worthier. I don’t want to waste my school’s money or my precious time “off.”

When I spilled these apprehensions to a colleague back from his sabbatical, he said I should take a month off to rest and clear my mind before my big plans. I felt momentary excitement, relief, elation, and gratitude. Then I realized… I’m too far behind to do anything like that.

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4 Comments

Filed under Ambition, Anxiety, Apologies, Doubt, Education, Essays, Identity, Laments, life, Meditations, Resolutions, Sabbaticals, Sturm und Drang, Teaching, Thoughts, Time, Work, Worry

4 responses to “A Word or Two From the Complaints Department

  1. dhefko

    I know how you feel, David–summer break, short as it is where I teach, always brings about in me a mild dread for all I might do and a corresponding anxiety for all I won’t accomplish.

    • dmarshall58

      School just ended (I’m late responding, sorry), and I’m starting to make plans to make plans. I just don’t want my sabbatical time to drift by. I certainly won’t have another.

  2. Congratulations on your sabbatical, David. I’ll be interested to hear about the results of your research, having raised a (now grown) son without either grades or school. (Half the time I dreamily forget that they exist…but I’m interested in all sorts of alternative educational endeavors.)

    • dmarshall58

      Thanks! I would love to talk to you sometime about your experience. I haven’t really decided what my final product will be, but I know that one line of research will be homeschooling. I have a couple of interviews lined up with homeschooled students here, and maybe we could talk sometime this summer. I’ll be in touch. –D

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