The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

At the center of what it means to be human

      Have you ever had that moment of realization where you come face-to-face with your finite nature and realize that your season for something has truly passed?  I have had many of those moments lately; they can be truly depressing.

      When I was little, I wanted very much to be an actress.  (Okay, when I was four years old, I went through a stage when I wanted to be a doctor, and I went through a brief stage where I thought I wanted to be a physical therapist, but mostly I wanted to be an actress).  Growing up in the shadow of Hollywood, for me, that meant, of course, I wanted to be a movie star.  Until I got just a little older and realized that I hate watching myself on camera. Like, seriously, hate.  I still do. So, I went with my heart and soul and became a teacher. 

      Not that I don't love being a teacher. And sincerely, I am called to be teacher. Looking back, I've known it all along.  There is this book by Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, in which he talks about how who we really are at the core is who we were as children, before we started adapting our passions and dreams to the worlds expectations. When I look back at myself as a child, I was a born teacher before I was even a students.  When I was like 3, I lined all my stuffed animals up on the porch swing for a "class picture," my dad, the amateur photog, of course obliged with his fancy camera.  He even blew the picture up and framed it.  But that is besides the point.  I just know that I have always, at the core of my being, been called to be a teacher. 

     But then, there is this other part of me, the part that, in my teenage years, discovered the stage, that is  still so enamored with the stage. I love acting on stage so, so, so much -- it is like a drug.  The rush I get from performing for a live audience is like nothing I could ever explain to someone who has not experienced it. Those of you who have know exactly what I am talking about. In November, when I went on a cruise with my in-laws, I auditioned for this show they have on the last night where some of the cruise guests get to be in the show.  I ended up getting to perform on stage as Gloria Estefan.  It was so cheesy and the costume was, well, horrific (don't expect to see clips of it -- I will NOT be posting them, as I said, I don't like myself on film), but I hadn't felt that good in a long, long time.  There were hundreds of people in the audience, and I just totally gave it my all, and it just felt, well, phenomenal. 

     Aside from the rush of the huge audience, there's this cathartic element to acting too. The energy, the escapism, the chance to completely dive into a fictional character's life and problems. That part of acting is therapeutic to a person's soul.  A few weeks ago, when a scene I am directing was falling flat, I got up on stage and took an actresses place so that she could see where the energy was falling. I rarely, rarely do that, but in this case, it worked.  When I got off stage after, I was shaking and out of breath from the intensity of the scene.  I had almost forgotten what that felt like. 

      When I do things like that... when I watch shows like Smash (which sometimes manages to hit me right at my emotional center and leave me breathless), I find that part of my soul aching.  I recently did a research project on the arts in education, and I found this quote that defined the arts better than I had ever been able to define it in my own head: theatre "[taps] into deeply cultural and expressive aspects of people's lives that are at the center of what it means to be human."  

    When I am acting is when I feel most in touch with what it means to be human. On stage, I am in touch with parts of my innermost being, and those parts are so terribly out of use these days that they almost physically hurt. 

     And then I have those moments where I think to myself? Why not? Is it ever really too late to chase a dream? Why not chase the Broadway dream?  I've always been a dreamer.  I've always believed that, if you can dream it, you can do it. But who am I kidding...  I would never, ever, ever leave teaching to pursue a career on Broadway, and even if I wanted to, even in my most optimistic moments, I could never fool myself into thinking that it was even close to a reality. I am, in Broadway terms, old, and terribly inexperienced.  And I do not really know how to dance. Even learning simple choreography takes me a long time. And I have a career... as a teacher. I'm a teacher. 

     I rarely feel old.  I usually look at my life and think, "I'm not even 30... I've got my whole life ahead of me," but when it comes to certain things...  that's just not true. 

    But, the passion in my soul longs not for Broadway fame and fortune. I long only for the drug-like delight I find on stage. And so, as soon as I finish this darn Masters degree, I will pursue my passion again.  I will audition for community theatre. I will not give up so easily. I will not make a million excuses for not auditioning. I will return to the jazz class I had started taking in January, so I don't always get rejected because of my lack of dance training.  Who says you can't teach an old dog new tricks?

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