Life, etc

John-Atkinson-Grimshaw-Paintings-A-Yorkshire-Lane-in-November-1873

So, it’s December. Already. I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that life appears to speed up as you get older. The sense of anticipation, the wonderful fossil-in-amber feeling of suspended time between the nows and the longed-fors that I had as a child never seem to occur these days. Life just slips through my fingers like sand, and I am left at the end of a week, wondering how it can possibly be Sunday already all over again.

One of the many joys of being a teacher is that no day is ever the same, but unfortunately each day is also a manic maelstrom of activity that sucks you in as soon as you step over the threshold at 8am and doesn’t spit you out again until late in the evening, when you emerge, slightly shaken, slightly confused, and wondering where the day went, and why you still have a pile of marking on your desk. Of late I have been consumed with a feeling of great restlessness and dissatisfaction, and I think part of that is due to my job. I make 101 bad decisions every day, and always finish lessons wishing I had said this, or hadn’t said that, or had tried that instead, or had spent more time helping that child, or not been so harsh with that child. The speed of the day, and the pressure of having to perform in front of a class of children of any age from 11 up to 18 on the hour, every hour means that I have precious little time to really consider what I am doing until I have done it, and then I find myself in agonies of regret and full of plans to do better next time, which invariably fail because once again I didn’t have time to think properly before I was forced into action. This cycle of feeling generally useless, exhausted and guilty has felt rather relentless, and it is really quite wearing ending every day contemplating on being a bit of a failure at life. It’s been one of those months. I blame the darkness. T.S.Eliot definitely had it wrong when he said April was the cruellest month.

Reading has gone out of the window, because I’m finding it really hard to concentrate on anything. I’ve spent plenty of lovely weekends doing interesting things in London, but I can’t find the energy or the creativity to write about them. All of my spare brain capacity is going into the writing of my novel, which is finished, but I am now going through the soul-destroying process of editing, and self-doubt is proving incredibly corrosive to my confidence. I have come close to deleting the whole thing on several occasions, but I manage to pull myself back from the brink each time. I really don’t know how real writers do it. So, this is just to say, I suppose, that I am here…just about, but you’ll probably have to wait until the Christmas holidays before you get anything like a decent post out of me. Hopefully I’ll have cheered up by then.  Marilynne Robinson’s Lila is beautiful, by the way. Put it on your Christmas lists. A few lines of Marilynne every night is just about keeping me sane at the moment.

54 comments

  1. I do hope things settle down and cheer up for you. Education is unlike any other profession for sucking the life blood out of people. Which is why I stayed a humble, poorly paid TA. It sounds as if you are incredibly dedicated to your pupils which is to your credit and why you have so little time for yourself.
    Oh and whatever happens with your novel (I feel it must be lovely) you are a proper writer! (whereas some of us are merely bloggers).

  2. This is not a comment but a suggested book for you to read. I have just finished reading A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow. I read it 50 years ago and it’s still a thoughtful and entertaining read. It was his first novel. I suspect that you may have read it – if not, then give it a whirl.

    royston

  3. I feel as if you’re a dear friend, and I’m shedding “the sympathizing tear”, as the old hymn says. Take care………

  4. I sort of got hung up on the phrase.. ‘the writing of my novel, which is finished…’ REALLY?? That is awesome! What an achievement! How did you accomplish that so quickly? I just wrote what felt like an eternity of 900 words, so I am extra impressed at you! I think you should feel grand–and yes it is dark, wet, and inhospitable out there, but feel grand, anyway–and don’t worry about the blog. You are writing, and how. Kudos. Not to mention the fact that you are managing one of the most stressful kinds of jobs, ever. Feel good about yourself. You deserve it. :o)

    1. Thank you! You know, I just wrote, and it just came out! I dedicated time every night to writing and was strict about it so that’s how it got done so quickly! Thank you so much for your kindness – I very much appreciate it!🙂

  5. the snow falling gently across your blog (or is it sleet? no, it’s too soft) is just the right antidote to your sad but too true description of what it feels like to be a teacher in darkest November/December – it’s such a long term and seems to be an endless repetition of torturous afternoons – I love your description of that childhood “wonderful fossil-in-amber feeling of suspended time”. Wish I could write half as beautifully.

  6. I struggle with all the same emotions you have in my daily work as a primary care physician in the US. Most of what I have to do during my day has nothing to do with helping people who are sick… Most of it is filling out forms and paperwork and electronic medical records that do not make people better …just make more money for insurance companies. Then an old patient comes In and reminds me of how much I helped them years ago. A new patient shows up telling me how their old doctor never called them back or missed a test result and I know I am doing this for a reason…

    I am awed that you have finished a novel! I can’t even finish the newspaper at home at night.

    When I get down I remember the small victories in the office against bureaucracy impersonalization insensitivity and putting profits ahead of people and I realize I am doing what God put me on earth to do..l make people’s lives better…. I suspect that is the reason you are here too… Keep it up!

    I am sure all of us would love to read a chapter or two of your novel!

    1. Thank you very much – and it sounds like you do an extraordinary job every day and I hope you are very proud of yourself and all you do. It is so important to stop and get some perspective, isn’t it?

      Oh, well…hopefully one day you will all get to read it – fingers crossed!!!

  7. What is the subject of your book? A friend of mine has just successfully published a very good book”Andree’s war ” and is full of praise for her editor too.

    1. It’s historical…with a bit of mystery and romance mixed in! Funnily enough I have Andree’s War on my reading pile – how wonderful that the author is your friend!

  8. Ooooh… It will be better! Jot down everything you want to change/ avoid saying to your students. I was feeling like you in late October – completely overwhelmed and so very unhappy with my teaching. I wrote down my worries and really went through every point as if I would talk with a former teacher and mentor. I had a better start the following week – and I knew when to be nice to me, when not to expect the impossible. That’s also an important reminder…
    Best to you! I am sure your are a marvelous teacher!

  9. And Ooooh . . . , I do not know how you manage – teaching, writing a book and sightseing in London . You must have the energy of a power-house ! Do not let self-doubt kill your book !

  10. Does it help to say you are not alone? I wonder every day why I bother and nobody seems to be taking any notice. I’m sat marking mock exam papers and it’s frightening to see how much is missing from their answers- the absolute basics, yet speak to the pupils and they all think they are working really hard, straight A* if you listen to them! Put on some carols and think at least we will get a couple of days together at Christmas to call our own and wonder, what else we could possibly be doing that would make us happier.

    1. Ha! I know the feeling…a good few days of rest and time to enjoy a good book will hopefully recharge my batteries and get me back to my normal self soon…I hope it will be the same for you. Those pesky kids do make it all worth it in the end!

  11. Sorry to hear you sounding low. This autumn/winter may have been warmer than average in England, but it does seem somehow darker. It feels much more than five weeks since we put the clocks back. If the darkness is really what is getting you down, have you tried a lightbox (if you are suffering from SAD) or just brighter bulbs? I have a “biobulb” in one room which is brighter than an old fashioned light bulb, more energy efficient, and more like natural daylight. I hope that you find brighter days very soon, both literally and metaphorically speaking.

  12. I think you’re being far too harsh on yourself, in your blog you come across as a kind, intelligent, sensitive person and I’m sure your students are lucky to have you. I know that feeling of being under intense pressure and “being a bit of a failure at life”. Writing a thesis for my masters degree while working full time at a demanding job consumed me, chewed me up and spat me out, but I got there in the end. It’s important to realise that you are NOT ” a bit of a failure at life” I am positive that other people do not see you in that light, we are our own harshest critic. Also, it’s worth remembering when contemplating your day, that the things which cause you the most anxiety may be like water off a duck’s back to the other people involved, and you are probably the only person loosing sleep over it! I’m not a teacher, I’m a nurse and one thing which I find really helpful is the use of “reflective practice” which is a tool widely used in nursing. I find this really beneficial when I feel that I’m going around in circles and making the same mistakes over and over, It helps me not to jump in with both feet and to keep things in perspective. Well done on finishing your novel, it is a huge achievement. One day you will look back at this season in your life and realise how well you did keeping all the balls in the air. Sorry for rabbiting on, but your post really struck a chord with me today, it was a bit like looking in the mirror. Take care, Holly.

    1. Thanks Holly! You’re very kind, and very wise. Reflective practice is something I need to use more often – it is so easy to focus on the negative things that happen during the day rather than recognise the things that went well. I hope you find some time to rest and recuperate over Christmas!

  13. Mmmmm… I wonder if you are trying to put too much in to the empty vessels? Sometimes less is more – so less input from you and more letting things flow out? After all, they aren’t empty vessels at all! I taught for many years and found it got a lot easier – and better – when I did a bit less for and in lessons. So less preparation, marking much faster but in a more focused way by choosing exactly which aspects of students’ work I would concentrate on. So I’d give myself a set amount of time to mark essays and do it very rapidly but in a very targeted way. I noted the main points arising, and that gave me my next lesson. Quick feedback is more meaningful. I was fresher…..

  14. When I was about 28 or 29, first time mother, full time work, etc. I went to the Doctor about something or other. She was a great source of ‘oh, I know’ as she had her children just slightly ahead of me, hence also a mother and working full time..anyway she said to me something that I have held onto ever since. What she said to me was simply that as long as I continued to question how effective I was (in this case, as a mother), then I was doing okay, and that the time to start worrying was when I stopped questioning myself. I try to be my best, always, but I do remind myself that there is always room for improvement, and that that is okay. It’s about mindfulness. So to recap, you have successfully trained as a teacher, you have a job as a teacher, no doubt you are a GOOD teacher, you have a blog, you have achieved the impossible and have written a book, something that many people only ever dream about, and you try to do your very best in everything you set out to do. So bravo! Give yourself a break. Put the book aside. DO NOT MAKE ANY CHANGES right now. This sounds like a very bad thing. You don’t have perspective at this stage, it will come, and then it will be time to sit down and read and edit, etc. Good luck! And be as kind to yourself as you are to others!

  15. When one has finished a novel (bravo!!) and is utterly exhausted by life, what I do is run a bubble bath, light the candles and get into bed with an audiobook and relish being read to by someone with a fantastic voice and a fabulous tale (last night it was Gabriel Byrne reading “Pictures In My Head”. It’s now 07:11AM in Los Angeles and it did the trick. I am refreshed and inspired and ready for what’s next.

    My sincerest congratulations on finishing your book. What a wonderful achievement.

    *wavingfromlosangeles*

    _sophia (from teamgloria).

  16. You finished the first draft!!! Hurrah!!!! I have three unfinished first drafts in a filing cabinet down in my basement. One of them may have been finished but the second draft never was.

    If you end up not doing anything with the first novel, I wouldn’t worry about it at all. Lots of writers never do anything with their first “novel”. Some end up with stacks of unpublished novels before one sells and they become famous. You never know.

    It can also be a good idea to let the think sit for a few months. You’ll go back to it when you’re ready.

    1. Thanks James – I need to worry less and just go with it a bit more. I have finished the draft as much as I can and I’m enjoying the experience of having finished something!

  17. 1. You are doing so much good as an empathetic and hardworking teacher. Focus on that.
    2. You are a writer because you are writing. And caring about the words. Take heart.
    3. I don’t know you personally but you have brought me (and some of my friends) great happiness through the wonderful books you recommend. I would never have found Little Boy Lost otherwise. So thank you.
    4. And (a it’s little early but) Happy Christmas.

  18. You just summed up my life in that first paragraph! How beautifully written! How inspiring! I could cry because it feels like I’m not alone.

    I am actually a PhD candidate, so no teaching for me (yet), but one day can go by in which I only make notes and edit a 20-pages article I have to hand in. For real.

    But you saying that you wish you had said this or that? I bet all my books you are an amazing teacher and that you are doing your best. While growing up my aunt – who is also a teacher – taught to remember that teachers are only human beings, and that they are allowed to have good times and bad times just the same way as I did. Give yourself a break, because I’m sure you deserve it.

    As por the reading, I have no idea what to say. Been there, as a student and the only thing that worked for me was sleeping 12 hours and, when up and full of energy tell msyelf that the next 10 hours were devoted to reading. No family, no work, no time out of the house. Just me and my books. I hope you find a strategy that works for you🙂

  19. Be kind to yourself! Just look at all the things you’ve achieved, then draw a deep breath, and take some time out from everything (even if it’s only a few minutes). By the way, I’ve never read any Marilynne Robinson, but of she’s keeping you sane, she must be good, so maybe I’ll try her’

    1. Thank you – yes, I am not very good at doing that so I need to try and stay positive! Oh she’s brilliant – you must try her! Start with Gilead – it’s beautiful!

  20. Hello! Ever since I stumbled on your blog a year ago, I’ve been a silent but avid reader from miles away, in the tiny island of Singapore. You strike me as a passionate, dedicated and competent teacher.Life always has its moments when we feel down and out, so don’t lose heart ! looking forward to reading more of your entries🙂

  21. http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/06/kazuo-ishiguro-the-remains-of-the-day-guardian-book-club

    Nice piece in the above link in the Guardian about finishing a novel (Remains of the
    Day no less) in a rush! Inspiring perhaps?!

    Re feeling tired and overwhelemed: Human service type careers demand a lot – you give so much of your ‘self’. As a full time occupational therapist I used to sleep away every Saturday afternoon to recharge. You’re also in a field that is undergoing so much change and riven with politics so even more challenge…

    I say hold onto your writing life. You have unique voice, talent, eloquence and potential to go far. It could become your primary career – don’t lose faith in that part of you. I’m into my third year as a freelance writer/journalist and identify with all the self-doubts but ignore that stuff and plough on gorgeous girl, because you have great promise as a writer of some shape.

    Lv, Merenia.

    1. I loved that article, Merenia – thank you so much for sending it to me! Thank you so much for your support and advice – you are lovely and I appreciate your encouragement enormously!🙂

  22. Did you read Lila as a stand alone book or read the first two in the series. I read a great review on the three of them recently. Well done on the book. As for how you feel, remember it’s winter, the days are short and dark and this is normal. Things will look up before long. I worked as a speech pathologist in schools for 35 years and I always felt like I could do better but when I look back I see how much good I did and those feelings are nowhere to be seen. You need a holiday. It’s coming soon.

    1. I have read the first two books but you could read Lila as a stand alone – you can read them all as a stand alone, actually. Thank you very much for your encouragement – the fog is starting to lift, thankfully!

  23. I hope things pick up soon! I know what you mean about always feeling you could have expressed things better or made more pertinent points during lessons. I occasionally do gallery tours where I work and I always come away annoyed with myself because I forgot to say this important point or mention that amusing anecdote. I think feeling a bit bad about it is a good sign because it shows you care and, after all, not caring is where the real darkness lies.

    Congratulations on the novel! I think just writing something of novel length is an achievement in itself. As for editing and rewriting I remember an anecdote told by Graham Greene. He was about half way through his latest novel when he sat back, thought ‘this is just terrible’ and lobbed it into a drawer in disgust. When he stumbled across it again five years later he read it through and thought ‘actually, this is rather good’. The moral being that sometimes you really can’t see the wood for the trees. I don’t want to sound patronising but, seriously, I’d put your novel somewhere safe over Christmas, spend the next three weeks catching up with friends, eating too much, drinking too much and generally getting away from everything and then return to the book in mid January. Sometimes you need a bit of distance and perspective to appreciate how good your achievements actually are.

  24. Rachel, I am sending uplifting thoughts your way. Do you remember my dort was teaching secondary school? She found it EXACTLY as you describe and realised it would break her to try and maintain her standards, but couldn’t bear to compromise them. She eventually took the plunge after three years and headed off to a new life in New Zealand earlier this year and with the advice of fellow professionals not to waste her talents with young people but to get into youth work ringing in her ears. Can you believe the perfect job came up within a couple of months after she arrived, working as the co-ordinator for the city’s youth council and she got it. She is absolutely loving the sideways move which uses all her teaching skills, but also plenty of avenues for her creativity and she speaks fluent ‘teenage’ too, but of course is now learning Maori! I feel sure the right path will make itself known to you too xx

    1. How fantastic! That sounds brilliant. New Zealand seems to be the place to be at the moment – my best friend is moving out there tomorrow, as it happens! I am so glad she has found happiness. I hope my path will become clear too…in time! Thank you for the uplifting thoughts! x

  25. Rachel, I am a much older teacher but you have summed up how I feel at the moment – being sucked in by the manic maelstrom of activity, having to make hundreds of decisions a day, being exhausted at the end of the day. And it is summer here, so no darkness as an excuse. No leaving and getting home in the dark as a reason for dissatisfaction.

    I hold onto the belief (knowledge?) that we all go through phases or cycles and I will feel joy in my job again. Another experienced teacher said to me that is why we need to take holidays – to renew our energy, to rest and restore our souls, our minds, our bodies.

    Thank you for writing so well what I have been feeling.

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