I am anything but real simple


I keep thinking about the covers of a magazine called Real Simple. Every month it appears at the grocery check-out. Each cover has clean lines and one dominate color and the featured items are neatly placed in spots created just for them. I salivate with longing for a simple way of being, a way in which everything has its place and there is a place for everything…always.

How great it would be if emotions were so easily organized. I find emotions are trouble. Or at least mine are. They come and go without warning and it is so hard to find places for them. For me, they are omnipresent. People’s words move me. I take in and react and respond to headlines and stories and books and poems and conversations in such a visceral way. I notice and then I start to feel and my responses can be difficult to contain.

There are days I jump in the shower to cry in order to avoid alarming my family or getting the third degree.

I simply do not know how to contain myself. The definition reads “to control or restrain” and it seems I have spent my life in restraint though anyone who knows me would likely disagree. But for every time I have let it all out, let me assure you there are hundreds of nights where I have diligently and in my mind, heroically, stuffed it all up in deference to acting like the adult I am supposed to be.

I see a pattern. I get jazzed by a conversation, moved by someone’s circumstance, lit up from stirring words and I MUST. DO. SOMETHING. I talk, I cry, I pace. And then I fall apart, seek counsel, get love, move a bit forward, fall a lot back, and the cycle repeats itself because I seek out that which makes me high (words, stories, headlines, personal connections) and inevitably, I fall again.

Some of you will suggest drugs and meditation. I am working with both and have done so for a long time and still, I am a roller coaster.

Until my first year of teaching, I had never really noticed this pattern in myself. But nothing will reveal your true colors to yourself like teaching hormonal and wacky seventh graders. Every other hour would find me running into a peer’s room to whisper-shout with clenched teeth, “Can you believe this?” or “My head wants to explode!” or “This. Is. It.!” Every day I was an emotional juggernaut and it wore me out.

I loved and hated it with equal measure. Contrary to what many think, teaching is isolating. Save for the three minutes between classes where you are hard pressed to choose between peeing, conferencing with a student, making last minute changes to your lesson plans, or seeking emotional release from a sympathetic peer while knowing you are using up his or her three minutes of time, you are left with your own self. And 28 expectant or disinterested or energetic or confused or dramatic or you-will-never-make-me-care-even-if-you-jump-on-chairs-and-roll-on-the-floor tweens. It felt hard.

So why now, 20 years later, am I reflecting on this bit of my life?

Probably because it has taken me this long to see me for who I really am. It seems I have always been in a fight with myself, a self that feels very much like those unpredictable tweens. A self that reacts to her world and its troubles, her students and their trials, her friends and their stories, her children and their lives, her spouse and his dreams because she feels so deeply and cares so much she can rarely contain herself. A self that stumbles a lot in a world that caters much more to staid adults with responsibilities than wonky and irrepressible tweens.

Where do I put all this incredulousness, uncertainty, and feelings of being flabbergasted and stymied in my daily life? How do I live in a way that is true to who I am while trying to function in a world that has yet to make containers for all of my emotional overflow? Restraining seems futile. Yet how is it useful to anyone? To me?

I start with my words. I sort out the jumble and mess of my heart in a mad fury working to create the appearance of order from what feels like utter chaos. And in doing so I am contained, if only for a brief time, to the page.