Sunday, April 26, 2009

Why I Blog: Many Conversations

After a post I made not too long ago, I found myself reflecting on the kinds of comments I was hoping it might provoke. For those of you who might not, yourself, blog, let me simply say that this is one of the main differences between blogging and other forms of writing I have done; while all writing has an audience (if only the voices within an author's head) in blogging, the audience writes back, usually within a few days of a piece's publication. There really is an element of conversation to blogging, that's absent from other types of writing. The original post informs the comments, that inform return comments or entire new posts, that inform new comments, and so on.

For me, the back and forth of this conversation, particularly with Quakers from a variety of places on the Quaker continuum, has had the effect of deepening my Quaker practice far beyond where it would be had I not found myself in the midst of this conversation. I'm not putting down the Quakers I know from my meeting, nor the quality of the adult education and spiritual nurturing I've had there; I think I'm very fortunate in the meeting I attend. However, there's something about the completeness with which a written thought can be communicated that can take written words deeper than most face to face discussions are ever allowed the space to go.

So a written conversation, with Friends from all over the world, has been a great gift to me.

Something similar happened to me, not around worship or ritual, but around Pagan scholarship, at the time Chas Clifton invited me to join something called the Nature Religions Scholars listserve. In the wider Pagan community, I have been honored for the part I played in helping Cherry Hill Seminary get off the ground... Neither of those parts of my life as a Pagan would have happened without the written conversation with Pagan writers and teachers like Chas, M. Macha NightMare, Fritz Muntean, Brendan Myers, Michael York, and Gus DiZerega. Both Cherry Hill and that listserve have evolved beyond me at this point, but my gratitude remains; the give and take of readers and writers took me a long, long way to becoming whatever it is that I am.

The Quaker blogosphere is different from that, however, in that Quaker readers and writers often do a particularly good job in stirring, not just intellectual growth, but spiritual deepening. As I blog, I often have the names of particular commenters, Pagan and Quaker, in my mind--the way the faces of members of my meeting rise up for me in Quaker worship sometimes. And when they respond--especially, when my Quaker readers respond--I often find myself challenged in ways that lead me deeper into a kind of worshipful writing... and, I think, deeper into worship generally from week to week.

Quaker blogging almost seems like a mutual ministry to me. Or is it that the comments from many Quaker readers are a kind of eldering? In any case, the comments nurture the Truth that is latent in my words, and draw it forth.

It feels wonderful.

A seasoned Friend and minister in my meeting told me last year that she thought I had a "budding gift for vocal ministry." And maybe that's so, and maybe it's not... but it does feel as though there is something in my writing that is a budding ministry.

(I admit to feeling a bit pretentious in saying this. I also worry that by naming a gift with traditional Quaker language, I'll actually distort it rather than let it become whatever odd beast it is meant to be. But it seems relevant today, so I'll trust my readers to take my words for however much or little they are worth.)

One thing that you may notice, as you read this post, is that I have spoken almost entirely of Quaker readers, and a kind of Quaker idea of ministry. But I have two audiences in this blog, not one: Quaker and Pagan. (I think it says some pretty good things about the open-mindedness and sincerity of my Pagan audience that they are willing to wade through as much Quakerese as I put up here in order to encounter whatever relevant insights there also are for Pagans in this blog!)

This crossed my mind, as I was thinking about the blog the other day. I began to wonder--is Quaker Pagan Reflections really a Quaker blog, fully and entirely? Do I actually have a use for my Pagan audience at all? For a moment, thinking purely of the one blog post I had just completed, I had an eerie sense that, no, Quaker Pagan Reflections was no longer a Pagan blog at all. It was a startling revelation, and a bit sad, but it seemed perfectly clear.

However, in talking about it with Peter I realized that I was wrong. It is not that I no longer write for my Pagan audience; it is that I write with different concerns and different needs to my Quaker and my Pagan readers.

I am still in an early stage of vibrant growth as a Quaker. The blades are still green and the grain is yet unformed on the stalk, and I am taking in nutrients from the Quake world as fast as I can process them. So I often write "Quakerwards" with a palpable hunger for what feedback I will receive.

But I am about as mature a plant as grows in the Pagan orchard today. I don't say I have nothing left to learn: after all, even if I were fool enough to believe myself the wisest Pagan alive, the gods would still know more than I. But that first, demanding stage of growth, all about the taking in and taking in of new knowledge and insights... that passed in the mid 80's sometime. (If I'm ever inclined to forget when that era was, all I have to do is look at the publication dates on my Pagan books. I was one voracious little reader, back in the day!) And when I write about Paganism, I am either writing about the past, the period of rapid growth I once went through, or I am writing from my perspective of today, as a Pagan elder and teacher.

From Quakers, I have much to learn.

To Pagans... do I have much to teach?

Well, it may be that I do, judging by the traffic from other Pagans to this site. By the way, I don't at all mean that my teaching is of the sort of a high mucky-muck to a humble newbie; the Pagans who stop here and leave their comments are either "weighty" or "seasoned" Pagans (to borrow some Quaker jargon) or are on their way to becoming so. Instead, I think a good part of what I offer my Pagan readers is something that Quakers are pretty good at (though less good, maybe, than they wish to be): mutual nurturing and eldering by peers.

With its emphasis on mysterious, charismatic leadership, Pagans have largely missed the boat on that. As a group, Pagans suck at collaborative eldering and support for one another as we grow. We are lousy spiritual friends and mentors to newcomers, too often preferring to impress them with our drama and our importance... and we are lousy peers and elders to our leaders, too often losing our way in hierarchies, Witch wars, or turf squabbles. The result is that we lose too many promising newcomers, or see vibrant new developments in the Pagan world run exclusively by and for new Pagans with few or no ties to seasoned members of the community. And we lose too many of our best--folks like Deo and Mandy of Deo's Shadow--not, I think, to our lack of critical thinking, but to our lack of spiritual support systems for those who find themselves in positions of leadership.

Children, we can't be having with this!

Seriously, I think I am discovering that my purposes in writing this blog are many. I think that, in addition to what I have to learn from Quakers, I have some few things to teach, too: things about plain speech that can involve humor, for instance, or about how the silence of waiting worship was never meant to drown out truth telling and intimacy on a human scale outside the worship. And I think that I will continue to learn from my Pagan peers and teachers, too, things about communities that may get lost in our passions from time to time, but do not purchase an easy semblance of peace through passivity and silence.

I think I blog because I love to write, and because the comments from all my readers provoke me to think harder and feel my way more deeply into my subjects. I'm motivated by my own need to learn and to grow, and by my own hunger for community.

But I think I may also be standing in this cross-roads for a reason. It's not theology that I want to share--with the possible exception of the peace testimony, there's not much of Quaker theology I feel a need to evangelize about, and as important a message as the sacrality of Earth is to Pagans, I think Quakers are receiving that message loud and clear from other messengers than me. But there's something about community, about connecting with and loving one another for real, that the two groups have to offer one another. I can't put it into words, excactly.

So I think I'm just going to stand here in this crossroads until the words come to me. And then I'm going to write them down... for all my people to read.




IMAGE CREDITS:
Conversation
, from Western Governors University
Crossroads Image courtesy of Free Photo.com

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Peter on Fixing Public Education and the World

I was talking the other day over dinner with friends of mine—some of them teachers and some of them high school dropouts who’ve gone on to become very successful in life—about how to improve public education in this country. Can it be fixed? Should it be fixed? Is public education even a good thing? And it got me thinking about what my assumptions are, not just about education but about human society and human nature in general. And when I look at my assumptions—the ones I’ve never consciously learned or decided on, that seem to live deep down in the brainstem—I’m a little surprised by what I find.

It is possible to get it right, is probably the most powerful of them. Hardwired somewhere deep inside me is a vision of human existence as growth towards perfection. It’s a story that runs something like this: Life came from chaos and dirt, evolved intelligence, developed tribal cultures and then urban cultures and then civilizations, fought wars, wrote treaties and envisioned a goal of lasting peace with universal human rights, prosperity, and personal fulfillment for all.

There are some places where it doesn’t quite work.

“World peace,” for starters, is a concept that seems to arise only in empires that are living comfortably on the wealth they have already stripped from their colonies. Pax Romana is not the kind of peace that George Fox envisioned.

“Individual human rights” is also kind of a dicey concept, as it ignores individuals who find their meaning in cohesive communities. If we eradicate Native American culture, for instance, or Amish culture, but give them all the right to vote and to attend public schools, is that a good thing? How many cultures are we trampling because we don’t even see them? What makes one group of people a "traditional culture" and another just a backward or oppressive system?

Which begs the question: Should we (or anyone) ever have the kind of power that makes that kind of question even come up?

A big, pluralistic society with a rich diversity of cultures sounds like a good, liberal ideal but the only way you get there seems to be through imperialist conquest. America has diversity because Europeans stole land from the Native Americans, imported African slaves and Chinese railway workers, and bought, bartered, or stole conquests from each other. America is diverse the way Iraq is diverse—Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds thrown together by an arbitrary political boundary like hamsters in a cage to kill each other when, in nature, they would rather just live peacefully and separately at opposite ends of a meadow.

But there’s my assumption again—it’s possible to get it right. To get all of it right, in one fell swoop. The world would be just fine if we didn’t have global superpowers carving up the third world like so much meat pie and engulfing more territory than can possibly be governed as one people.

It might even be true. Imagine a world that is an open meadow dotted with independent little city-states, each no bigger than fifth-century B.C.E. Athens, with a loose network of trade and maybe with occasional skirmishes over a particularly good patch of farmland, but largely devoid of wars and the causes of wars. A bit provincial, perhaps, and maybe even a little dull, but also peaceful and idyllic. Can’t you just see it as an R. Crumb poster?


But there is simply no path from here to there.

Here is where we have to act. Here is where we have to do what good we can. And peace, whatever that word means, has to be something we live out here, in a world of six billion people where America has hegemony over the Western hemisphere and where Islamic extremists are gaining increasing sway among young people without hope and where North Korea is developing nuclear missiles.

And here, in the middle of the American empire, funded by the wealth of plunder and pledging allegiance to the flag, I teach public school.

Because…?

The bottom line, really, is that I find it meaningful because I find my relationships with the kids meaningful. Society may be broken beyond repair, but individual students—almost all of the seventy-five or so of them that I see every day—are (I think) better off and are better people for having known me and learned from me.

I don’t know how to fix public education, or if public education can be fixed at all, or even if it should be. I can think of half a dozen radical solutions that would completely revision what public education is all about (none of which are remotely feasible politically) but at bottom, I don’t know what’s best for society. I do have some sense of what is best, at least today and this week, for most of the kids that come in and sit down in front of me.

Which means, I guess, that I’ve found another of my underlying assumptions: Individual people and individual relationships are what matter most, more than societal or global solutions.
I have to sit with that one a while and see if I really believe it.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Work: Part 2. Simplicity?

So here I am, working as a teacher in a small school with its share of troubles... but plenty of things going for it, too. Our building is new and well-maintained, and our student mix includes both rich and poor; the sons and daughters of professionals and the sons and daughters of blue collar families and farm families, as well as unemployed and foster families. I've got plenty of colleagues I like and admire, classroom to call my own, and after five years, I have a collection of lesson plans and strategies that work better all the time.

In other words, I've become a reasonably skillful and useful teacher in one of those schools that doesn't make headlines when politicians are dining out on the topic of education reform. If you are an American reading these words, chances are good that you attended a school a lot like mine, and had teachers a lot like me.

There are days I feel incredibly good about what I do. Sometimes, I feel pretty good about being a teacher. Maybe it's when I've got the kids excited about acting out a scene from Shakespeare, or seen one of them really get it about how a writer can use even a "boring" descriptive passage to make something important in his message come alive for a reader--or, best of all, when a student who swore up and down at the beginning of the year that he hated reading comes thronging my door at break to rave about the latest book they borrowed from my classroom (and did I know there is a sequel, and can I get it for him, please?) Those times are sweet.

Doing it well--that's sweet.

Some days, I feel myself walking down the halls with certainty even in my feet. It's the sensuous pleasure of competence itself, hard won in a job that is so much harder than it looks.

I relish it: I relish knowing just how to pitch my voice to get the student in the back row to understand I know he's not paying attention. I relish knowing that I've got it going on when I'm reading a poem or a story aloud to a class. Maybe more than anything else, I relish knowing that I have achieved a kind of mastery of tone and pacing and humor and mutual respect that makes a group of teenagers want to follow me (mostly) when it's time for me to lead.

I like leading. I like being good at it. Just being skillful is a tremendous reward.

And of course there are also all those other satisfactions: you know, the stuff about helping people. That's there, too. Just being an adult who sees kids and respects them in world where there's a shortage of that in so many kids' lives--it's therapeutic in ways that being a psychotherapist never was.

So that's nice, too.

But.

(You knew there was a "but" coming, right? Had to be, or why bother to write this essay at all?)

Without even going into the various frustrations and stupidities that are part and parcel of teaching in any public school, there are times when I wonder how much longer I can possibly keep this up.

They tell me it gets easier, the longer you teach.

And this is true: I can testify to that. The twelve hour days of my first year of teaching are almost never longer than ten in this, my fifth year of teaching. And things go right far more often than they go wrong these days.

And yet, satisfying as this job can be, important as I know this job is, at times I feel as though it were sucking my soul out my ears and eyeballs day after day after day. Even on the best of days, teaching feels a bit like having your wind knocked out of you, again and again and again.

Did I say this job is hard? This job eats you alive, and sends your drained and weary corpse home to shamble through whatever remains of a life you might have had at the end of the day.

This job leaves you prostrated, limp and lifeless, for anything beyond its requirements.

And then you get up in the dark, rise, and go forth to do it again the next day. And the next. And if I think about how many years there are until I retire, I will go mad, so I try not to do that.

Retirement. Quakers are told to take a time of retirement every day, in which to wait upon the Spirit.

Some days I manage to sit for about three minutes in my car in the morning, once I have arrived at my school. The parking lot faces east, and I sip my coffee in the mornings and watch the rising sun through the scrim of trees across the road.

Then I go into my school, and teach.

There are the summers, thank the gods.

Every now and then, some monkey tries to push the idea of year-round school or an extended school day. I don't really have the energy to get upset about that: should these proposals ever carry the day, I will simply be gone, out of the profession as surely as if I were required to climb Everest in order to retain my position. I have not got more to give within me. It can't be done.

For it is in the summers that I stoke the engines--spiritual as well as physical--to make it through another year.

In the summers, I rise around seven, take all the time I want to sip my coffee in the sun, and then write for two or three or even four hours straight. In the afternoons, I see friends, walk my dogs, explore the woods or go to the lake with a book and a folding chair. I read, laugh, travel, pray, and exercise.

I try not to miss meeting for worship during the school year, but often, I cannot help it. In the summers, I miss worship only if I am visiting relatives--and, if there is a meeting near them, I go to it.

I can circle with Pagans under the full moon in the summer; I can light candles to Her light beside the calm waters of a lake. I go to New England Yearly Meeting in the summer. I worship outdoors in the summer, hike with friends, look up at the bottoms of maple leaves, and think. I try to center myself down as deeply and as fully as I possibly can, because, like the cool of a summer swim, once I have emerged from my time of retirement, I know that it will vanish quickly, leaving me hot and sticky and laboring once again.

So here's the question: is this any way to live?

Maybe this isn't the time to ask that question.

This has been a tough year, for whatever reason. I've been teaching a new (to me) course; I love it, but a new course takes more lesson planning. Weather delays and cancellations threw the pacing of certain units off, which is always a challenge. And I got sick in December, and I haven't yet recovered my stamina in April.

I'm tired. I feel like Bilbo Baggins: "like butter that has been scraped over too much bread." I ask myself, is this Chronic Fatigue, or am I merely chronically fatigued?

It makes little difference. I work. I work because I work.

Perhaps it's just that working for a living is hard. Or perhaps it is that teaching for a living is hard.

I seem to remember having a life outside the work day. I seem to remember taking walks, talking with friends, having time for household work and bills and shopping for groceries.

I used to bake bread sometimes. I used to brew beer. I used to walk my dogs even when it was not summer; I used to walk to work.

Am I just getting older? Is my job what I should be doing after all, or is it keeping me from doing what I should?

I currently serve on Mt. Toby's Ministry and Worship committee. And I struggle with feeling that I don't serve there very well.

I was thrilled, terrified, humbled, and eager all in turns when I was told my name had risen for Ministry and Worship. I want to offer and to nurture good ministry at my meeting. I want to believe I have something to bring to the table when we meet. Mind you, at times I have felt like a tiny child trying to keep up with the big kids. But I have also tried to set my fears and my inadequacies aside, and to do the job, the best I can. My term will be up in August, and I'll rotate off the committee.

I'm going to miss it. I'm also feeling relieved. I'm not convinced I've done a good job.

How many times have I missed committee meetings from pure fatigue? How many times have I even attended meeting for business, which is under our care? And in this past year, I have even missed many meetings for worship. I miss them in order to grade papers. Papers that, perhaps I could have graded after school or on Saturday, if only I'd been more disciplined.

Or is it, if only I'd been less tired?

Am I ordering my life badly? Am I wasting too much time and energy on trivialities? Could I be more efficient?

Or am dying of over-efficiency already, driving myself as I would never drive an animal?

Am I a failure in my service to my meeting? Or am I not only dancing as fast as I can, but actually doing a pretty fair job trying to serve in two weighty roles, as a public school teacher and as an engaged Friend?

I don't know.

I don't know, I don't know, I don't know... And the tireder I get, the less I feel as if I'll ever know!

John Woolman simplified his business life in order to be better able to pursue his ministry.

Simplicity.

Friends' testimonies on simplicity are not really about wearing fair-trade garments hand-woven by Bolivian peasants. They are not even really about "living simply that others may simply live". They are about cutting out the inessentials, the distractions, so that we can hear the voice of God when She is speaking to us.

So that question again: is this how I'm supposed to live?

Maybe. Just because it's hard doesn't mean you're doing it wrong.

After all, I'm pretty sure that God did not gather a great people together to have them form committees! And I am clear that my decision to leave counseling and explore teaching was most certainly a leading if ever anything in my life has been worthy of that name.

Rightly or wrongly, I do feel that I have a ministry of some sort among Friends. And I want to go on engaging in serious work among Friends as a way of exploring it. I want to stand close to other Friends at work, because I know that that's a good way to stand close to God.

I long for that deepening all the time.

But I am so tired of feeling that I am only half doing what I have been asked to do!

So I'm asking myself--what's next?

How long can I continue as I have been, teaching and tiring? Am I hearing the faint beginnings of another leading--or am I merely feeling faint? Am I perhaps right where Spirit wants me to be, difficult though it sometimes seems? Or am I falling short, or taking on too much, outrunning my leadings and tiring myself needlessly, so I have no strength for larger things to follow?

Am I questioning my life from right motives of simplicity, or am I simply weary?

I ask. But I don't yet know.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Work: Part 1. Endings and Beginnings.

As I type these words, I am surrounded by a house that is going to seed.

I may never have been a great housekeeper, but the years since I entered teaching have been particularly poor from a Better Homes and Gardens perspective. The carpets are more dog hair than any other fiber; our dining room table cannot be seen for the stacks of unopened mail and hampers of laundry waiting to be folded; the windows are nearly opaque with grime; and cartons of books to give away or throw away hulk in the corners as if they were themselves bulky pieces of furniture. I won't even describe to you the mildew in my bathtub.

It's a mess around here. And (as is surely the case in many two-teacher households) it won't get much better till the end of June, when school lets out.

It is a visible reminder of how out of balance my life currently is. And it is a visible reminder to continue to wrestle with the questions of work and vocation that have been on my mind almost constantly this year.

I do not think there has ever been a time in my life when my work life and my home life have been in balance. At times when I seemed to have a good balance in terms of the number of hours spent at home vs the number spent on the job, the money I brought in has been embarrassingly inadequate. For about twenty years, I worked in various capacities as a counselor and psychotherapist. I was good enough at what I did to build up a small reputation for it locally; I was good enough at it that I know myself that, yes, I did some good.

But the hours were lousy; it was feast or famine in terms of how busy I was. And I will not tell you how little I earned in an average year, because remarks that I have overheard in passing about "hobby therapists" still sting after all these years out of the profession.

Suffice it to say, I never earned enough money that I felt it was adequate compensation to my family for the evening hours I put in, the shortened vacations (to keep clients from decompensating in my absence!), the crisis phone calls interrupting meals, or the constant fatigue when I did get home. I think my daughter probably heard, "Not now, I'm tired" from me more than any other set of words, and if it is not reasonable to hold one's parents liable for the "sin" of working hard to support you, I'm not sure the same can be said for working hard and not actually earning enough to accomplish that.

But I was good at what I did, and I enjoyed the sensation of being good at it. There is a kind of sensuousness to doing a job--perhaps any job--properly. And that satisfaction is only deepened when the job is one that you know very clearly is meaningful to the world.

I remember one night, walking across the dark and almost abandoned UMass campus to my car after facilitating a rape survivors' group. As is not unusual while running a group for trauma survivors, I was somewhat hypervigilant. It's not that the world is more dangerous to women who are aware of its dangers to us, but it certainly feels more menacing after a long night of hearing stories of rape and abuse, and sharing those emotions with a group.

The shadows were long and dark, and I was quite aware of the ways I am not invulnerable, and thinking about what would happen were I assaulted before I could reach my car.

Minds work that way, after all. On the one hand, it had been a very satisfying and productive night, and real healing was happening. On the other hand, it had been a night that stripped away the illusion of safety that usually soothes us all as we go through our lives.

But as my feet padded along the hard concrete of the sidewalk, I had a funny feeling come over me. Not that I was immune to rape or violence or death, but that, doing what I was doing and had been doing, no matter what might happen to me in my body, I would be OK. Somehow, the essential I walking through the night would be just fine.

It seemed to me that my life was a path. That night, not simply because of the nature of the work I was doing, but because I had been fully open to that work and fully in it, and because the work was what I was meant at that moment to be doing... just at that moment it seemed to me that I was fully on a kind of white path that was mysteriously much, much stronger and more real than even the cement under my feet.

And though I could be hurt or even killed, while I was on that path, somehow, even that would be all right. In a deeper way, nothing could harm me, as long as I was walking my own true path.

I can't really convey the solidity of the realization. It was a kind of affirmation of my work in the way that, years later, on September 11, 2001, my sudden and visceral conversion to the peace testimony was a repudiation of my ideas about the rational use of force.

As a Quaker, I now have a whole vocabulary about leadings and openings and times of being "well used" by the Holy Spirit. One of the ways I understand that moment was that it was an encounter with the Holy Spirit; one of the ways I understand the work that I did as a counselor, while it was the work I was meant to be doing, is of the experience of being "well used."

The memories of being fully and rightly used as a counselor are among my very best. I continue to honor the men and women who trusted me with their stories. It was a privilege to be part of their connection to life and to meaning.

But it came to an end, that era in my life.

There had always been days when the stress and the grief of counseling survivors of abuse sat heavily on my shoulders. Literally, I think, on my shoulders: I used to feel a kind of burning sensation between my shoulder blades, an ache, after some of the most painful client sessions.

I knew where every green space in downtown Northampton was, and I always booked at least 30 minutes between client sessions, so that when I felt the need I could go outside and lie down on the ground underneath a shady tree and let the pain drain out of me, into the soil. Into the Earth. (She is big enough to carry our pain, and will if we let her, taking it away and letting the little eaters of life feast upon it, only to return to us the broken up bits of our grief as nourishment for new life. This is not a metaphor.)

But the day came when I began to feel something different, unlike the heaviness of sharing, however briefly, another person's burdens. I began to feel a grief that was like fear, or a fear that was like grief. Gradually, I began to realize that I was going to have to stop counseling. And, though it had never actually paid the bills for my family, I had never done anything else since I'd left school. I had no idea what would come next.

This is the part where my psychotherapist friends like to nod sagely and say, "Ah, yes. Burnout." But it was not burn out, despite the perpetual possiblity of that specter. It was something else.

It was being... done.

It was loss. (Maybe all change begins as loss.)

Counseling was simply not supposed to be my white path any more. I could stay on it if I chose, but the moments of knowing I was exactly where I was meant to be in that work were coming to an end. It was time to move on, but I did not know into what.

Again, as a Quaker, I have a vocabulary for this. I believe that this was one of three or four times in my life when I have been given a very clear leading.

The decision to leave the profession was not really a decision; it was a spiritual necessity. I could not have stayed in counseling without having disregarded something invisible but essential about who I am as a person.

It was still difficult to imagine doing anything else. I never had.

I asked myself what I loved.

I loved kids. Especially in the gawky, self-conscious, brilliant and erratic stage of life called adolescence.

I had discovered how much fun young teenagers could be. My daughter taught me that, when she flooded my house with her middle school friends for sleepovers and after-school chaos. (It has taken me some time to learn the vast difference between the well-loved and well-educated adolescents of functional families, and the angry, broken children of angry, broken parents. I am still learning how to love those teenagers; not impossible, but absolutely more difficult.)

A lateral move into counseling teenagers made sense intellectually. But in no other way was it appealing to me.

I did not love counseling teenagers. For whatever reason, teenagers in counseling are a prickly, defensive, fearful species. I believed then, and I still believe now, that this is less about the problems of teens in counseling than it is about the fact that counseling is not an adolescent's natural habitat: adults can often benefit from exploring painful memories and emotions in company with a caring other. Adolescents, though, are emotionally a bit like race cars without brakes. The last thing they need, in many cases, is to flood themselves with emotions they can scarcely name, let alone experience, accept, and move on from.

So. What else did I love?

I loved--I have always loved--books.

I took a second look. Could I combine my love of books and my love of adolescents? Why not change careers and become a teacher?

Why not?

Well, teacher certification programs are expensive. It was hard to justify more expensive education in the interests of a career that might not even suit me.

And how would I close out my private practice? It would hardly be ethical to simply close my doors one day, but if I simply stopped accepting new clients, and waited for old ones to finish or accept referrals, I could be in for a long, long period of even less money flowing in, while working enough hours to make things like practice teaching virtually impossible.

And I'd been an English major in college, meaning that the easiest road to travel would be towards teaching English. But I'd hated most English classes in high school and middle school: too much talking about books, and not enough reading them.

And who would hire me, anyway? I was clear that I was not interested in saving the world with this career move: I knew I could get a job in a troubled inner-city school, but I also doubted I could handle it. No schools with metal detectors became my index of possiblities.

I found options opening up, once I began looking for them. I discovered the books of Nanci Atwell, a middle-school English teacher whose student-centered philosophy of teaching turned out to be something I could imagine as a center of my own teaching.

My daughter took a class with another very talented middle-school teacher, who taught in a way I could imagine enjoying either as a student or as a teacher. He introduced me to books by other teachers, like Harvey Daniels, stressing independent student reading and writing.

A local college began offering a teacher certification program that met at times I could attend, and for a price I could afford. A local adult education program let me volunteer with student writing groups, and test my vocation.

Many of my clients gradually finished up their work with me. Others accepted referrals. Still others found ways to flex around my changing life as we concluded our work together.

And I was hired, in the end, by a small, rural school district where I work still. No metal detectors: clean, bright hallways. And colleagues I can admire; kids I can (mostly) reach and enjoy.

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