There's no easy way to say this, so I'll come right out with it. I am an introvert. Most days, I would rather sit in the confines of my house, sipping on coffee in the back yard while watching birds fly around the canyon than walk out my front door and speak to anyone. If it wasn't for a number of positive things in my life I would eventually be the anonymous old man in a forgotten apartment who would die, and eventually be found when the stench becomes unbearable to the neighbors. Fortunately, I have a family, friends, and a vocation that barely give me time to sit, let lone sit in the back yard and drink coffee while watching birds.
Like every other teacher, I never feel caught up, and I sure never feel like enough was accomplished on any given day. That can sure put a limp in an otherwise springy step; therefore, many years ago I learned a simple strategy. I just put on my game face about five minutes before I walk out of my office toward a classroom. I know it might sound silly to some and even fake to others, but when those days of unrelenting anxiety climb my back and dig their claws into my neck, I can become the most animated teacher around because its all a stage show. In fact, sometimes I don't even recognize myself, and that is when the class just flows.
Its almost like I take on a different persona that completely drains me in a short period of time, but it can be quite enthralling to fight the urge to run away with the action of staying and becoming the crazy English professor. I become a story teller, a motivational speaker, a dream crusher, a magician, intellectual, and even a student who sits in chairs in awe of the work in front of me. I stutter. I misspell words. I get things wrong. I become somehow more human when I am trying to escape my own natural tendencies. I revert back to being a kindergarten teacher with little eyes looking up at me. I become a dad holding his kids arms and swinging them around, twirling and twirling until we are all dizzy and laughing. I go back to an April morning in the mid 1990's when I worked for a subcontractor at the Long Beach Naval Ship Yard converting old US Navy ships that we had sold to Taiwan. We had been working 16 hours a day for almost a week and I was dead tired at 7:00 am when the fumes of the epoxy paint I was using got me a little high. Sheryl Crow came on the radio singing, "All I want to do is have some fun..." and I decided right then and there that I was going to quit and be free. I was high on paint fumes, but I was euphoric. I shuffled through the rest of that day, left that night, and got home to my apartment on 22nd and Broadway as the sun came up. It was beautiful. So when I really need it, I shuffle back to the galley on a half rotted-out ship in Long Beach and find my freedom.
While I don't sing, "All I wanna do is have some fun..." I do allow that sense of calm to cover up the absolute disaster that I feel inside. I go back and put on my boots, my Dickies, and my hard-hat. I grab my tool box. I open the paint can. I turn on the radio. I go back to a little piece of hell so that I can recognize this slice of heaven. I mask my insecurities with a song that no one hears. I pullout my keys and turn the lock. I flick on the lights and take a few strides across the room where I drop my bag and grab the podium to steady myself. The cold metal feels a little bit like home. It sways back and forth, rocking, but never falling. The voices of students murmur and grumble until they hush. Their hands grip pens and books. They scribble a little something on the page, maybe its a date or just some random doodle before they look up toward the podium where I am standing white-knuckled and teetering upon disaster. The final notes drift off somewhere and there is an awkward, momentary silence where its almost as if they know that I am wearing a mask. That I am a great pretender and they are the audience willingly suspending their disbelief.
From somewhere deep in the bowls of my humanity the monologue begins with a sound crawling out of bed and walking across the room, stretching and exhaling a great yawn.
The first word is spoken and class begins.