The last few weeks have been a whirlwind.
I have been hired for my first teaching job as a middle school language arts and social studies teacher for 6th & 7th graders.
I have completed my twelve weeks of student teaching and my first unit – and started the process of deciding what I want to do in my own classroom next year.
I have graduated with a master’s degree.
I have submitted my certification exam for scoring (a three-part practical exam complete with video, lesson plans, and almost thirty pages of analysis, commentary, and reflection).
I have completed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for PTSD related to rape that occurred seven years ago.
I have begun the last ten credits of my master’s degree, and will take the Social Studies certification exam later this afternoon.
I have made plans to find a place of my own, purchase a car, and train for a marathon.
In short, I need a moment. I have accomplished an incredible number of things since I moved to Seattle a year ago. I imagine myself twelve, six, even four months ago, and I almost don’t recognize the woman I see. Maybe others haven’t noticed as much, since I’ve worked incredibly hard to project confidence and competence, but my own understanding of myself, of my capacity to heal, to move forward, to stand up and ask for what I need – because I KNOW what it is – has grown immensely.
AND. I have a long way to go.
In philosophy, there exists the concept of a dialectic, which states that two contradictory ideas can simultaneously be true and thus allow deeper understanding. Over the last few weeks, this idea has blown my world up. A few years ago, I wrote a post for the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance blog on the nature of joy and sorrow – that they were part and parcel of the same thing, and one could not experience joy without sorrow and vice versa. I was onto something, but life and the busy-ness of survival in SF relegated the idea to the back of my mind.
Each time I reach a new conclusion, each time I feel my brain turn a corner, it is because I have learned to acknowledge the coexistence of opposites – even my last post, “Enough,” closed with a dialectic: “I can be better, and I am enough.” A huge part of moving on is accepting that, in the absence of a perfect world, we hold the tension of disparate parts within ourselves.
In my final writing for therapy, my new-found ability to use “and” in place of “but” (which immediately negates any statement preceding it despite any evidence to the contrary) transformed my understanding of myself and my ability to be in the world – AND it’s something I still have to practice.
It’s emotionally powerful: I am capable and worthy of a trusting romantic relationship and I am still working on the gradual trust necessary for such a relationship; I am in charge and there is no way I can be 100% perfectly and completely in control of my surroundings and the thoughts/emotions of others; I have inherent worth and I will always have moments where I start to question that and I have the resilience and fortitude to hold on. Sitting with the tension created by these “contradictions” is incredibly freeing.
In the midst of my elation about my new job, I was starkly reminded of the dialectic I’d left out. Yesterday evening I was recognized on the bus by a woman with whom I had attended college. She is a few years younger than me, but somehow she saw through the intervening years (and because my hair was in a ponytail) to the face in her ballet classes. After initial reintroductions, the inevitable question arose: “are you still dancing?” I balked. A year and a half removed from my decision to set the wheels towards teaching, I still have trouble answering this question – am I still a dancer? I gave up so much to come to school, to change careers, life-paths, cities, friend-groups…am I still a dancer, now?
Yes. AND. I will never be a dancer in the same complete immersive way I was before.
I am a teacher and I am a dancer; those two ideas can be encompassed by my person.
Yes. AND. It will always be hard to answer that question, because I feel somehow illegitimate by comparison to the life I lead before.
In the absence of a perfect world, I can understand my paths as not separate, exclusive entities, but disparate aspects of the same thing: me. As I discussed with my eighth graders, I will never be completely certain of who I will become – and I know where I am from and where I am, and I will go forward from here.
To appropriate Patrick Rothfuss’s quote, I am wise enough to know myself, brave enough to be myself, and wild enough to change myself while somehow staying altogether true.
I can step into my own skin and go forward from where I am.