The problem with blogging for me is that a lot happens in a relatively short period of time and once I fall behind, I feel like I can never catch up again. Jaime thinks I should do shorter posts. While I’m not much for short-bursts of inane banter, I may need to start that way just to get rolling. So how to tell War and Peace like a short story? Let’s bullet point the bigger points:
*Visited Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty on Election Day with my west coast friend Joey. Subsequently drank away the misery of the night’s proceedings.
*Got married in what can only be described as a nearly-perfect day.
*Saw one of the biggest shooting stars I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen quite a few) the day after the wedding.
*Found out that the person-of-interest I identified in a cold case murder from the late 70s passed away, possibly escaping justice for good.
*Spent a low-key Thanksgiving with Jaime’s family
*Helped get one project I’m producing get to the next level while joining a documentary film on an infamous 1980s murder.
*Caught an advanced screening courtesy of my Writers Guild of America status for La La Land, which is a brilliant piece of film in my opinion.
*Finally returned to work on December 5th.
Ironically, I’m going to circle back to the wedding on my next post as it’s going to take more time than I have tonight. The return to work is still fresh on my mind, so it takes the precedent. Oh, and if you’re confused by the fourth bullet point…that’s a long story for another day.
Today I officially stepped back into my classroom for the first time since the end of June. It was a bittersweet and surprisingly emotional moment for me. This is my fifth year teaching at a job I originally wasn’t sure I’d A) enjoy B) even have a chance to be rehired for and C) would be much good at. Somehow, without college classes, I ended up becoming a decent teacher. Over time, I came to really enjoy the challenges it raised. We’ve won national awards, screened at a half dozen festivals and raised the profile of our program and our school.
Then I had my aortic dissection at the end of August and the whole gameplan became an audible. I had to change my newly formed strategy on how to handle the next four years of the program…not to mention what the heck I was going to do trying to coach a new teacher from the sidelines. It was not ideal, but I’ve been told approximately 10,001 times since the surgery that I have to rest and recover and take it easy and that it would all work out and…well, you get the idea.
Fortunately, the teacher they brought in, Ken, was able to navigate through the weird and wild waters of Long Term Subbing and the kids pulled off a few projects. Still, the absence from the studio made me realize just how much I enjoyed mentoring the kids.
So I found myself in the parking lot at 7:10 AM with Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story winding down. I didn’t plan for it…it was just the song that the randomizer put on as I pulled into my usual parking place behind the building. The day before, I was struck by a strong case of anxiety that continued on in the night, leaving me tossing and turning all night as if I were going in for my first day ever rather than my first day of Year Five. And as the lyrics sunk in, I realized just how close I came to being just a story to these kids. If the operation and odds had tilted the other way, I would have been a memory. They’d be one of the only real legacies I’d leave behind.
Not exactly a light revelation for the pre-sunlight hours.
So I choked out a few tears and shook out the butterflies as best I could before donning the battered fedora and buttoning up the banged up leather jacket. I didn’t have my keys so I had to retrieve them from the main office before I could settle in to work. Along the way, colleagues and a few of my students stopped to shake my hand or offer a hug and smile. The previous Friday, I had emailed out a brief explanation for my hiatus and minimize the number of times I had to tell the story of how I nearly died. It worked, because the reactions focused more on warmth and optimism rather than shock and confusion over what happened.
The first couple of periods were free for me, so I had time to collect my thoughts and look at my office in dismay. During the summer I had filmed some material on the green screen and due to the arrangements with the custodians, anything on the tables had to be kept off the floors while they repainted and waxed the floors. As a result, a lot of my stuff is still piled up in my office as it was left. I usually come in a few days before class starts to organize and prep the room but obviously that time was spent in the operating room getting my heart rearranged.
My counterpart in entertainment technology on the music side came by to chat and quite a few of the seniors I had taught along the way came by to give hugs. Then the sophomores came in and it felt like things were going to be okay. They had welcome back cards and a few of them cried and everyone was smiling and for the first time since August 22nd, I felt like getting back a sense of normalcy wouldn’t be a Herculean task.
Don’t get me wrong. The wedding was an absolutely glorious day and easily the most fun I’ve ever had. The recuperation time allowed me to catch up on classic films and further my self-guided cinematic journey. I’ve started to write and prep projects and produce. But for some reason, seeing these 16 year-olds so happy to have me back in the room made me feel like the worst of the journey was over.
I know it’s not guaranteed to stay that way. There are always going to be plot twists. My life, in particular, is filled with them. But staying at home all day never felt completely comfortable. It felt wrong. I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. So when I got back into that incredibly uncomfortable rolling chair in the dimly lit classroom, I didn’t expect to feel the weight lift off my shoulders. But it did.
Some of the juniors and seniors popped in to see me early and the giant combined class at the end of the day was a little overwhelming…but it was overwhelming in a good way. There’s nothing quite like the mixed emotions that come with being told ‘I think a few of us felt lost without you here’. On the one hand, that’s really heartwarming to say. On the other hand, WHOA, no pressure or anything!
I’ve got to learn to pace myself, to find balance. It’s been a key to recovery the last three months. Now it’s balancing walking, drinking enough water, sitting just enough to rest my legs and talking enough to get the point across but not so much that I wear my lungs out like I did by 12:40 today. After nearly an hour of fairly consistent speaking, I felt my chest start to warm up. I wasn’t in pain, but it felt like I had run a long distance. The reason, I quickly realized, was that being more or less alone for two months for most of the day had left my lungs probably in need of some exercise.
The guy who never spoke up for himself enough when he was younger, than broke out of his shell with a vengeance, is now back to learning how to maintain lung capacity. Funny world we live in.
It’s good to be back. Things aren’t the way they were, but maybe that’s for the best. The wedding feels like it really did mark a turning point. All the cliches about a new chapter or fresh start really feel appropriate after months of rehabilitation and worry and tears and pain. The years preceding it had plenty of hardship as well. It was a lot to carry around inside. To start fresh in any way, big or small, is a good thing in my mind.
So here’s to new hope for fresh starts, wherever they come from and whenever they arrive. Cheers.
Until next time,