Wheels are turning

At the end of the summer, I find myself living in Washington DC. The prospect of free rent and the proximity of D makes it the best choice of a temporary home, and now that our plans have readjusted themselves I no longer need to look for long-term housing. When people say “Oh, so what do you do?” I look at them, take a pause, and reply “Nothing.”

Of course, this could not be farther from the truth. I am happy to elaborate should they care to hear, and luckily most of my friends do continue their enquiries. When I say that I have been doing nothing, this is merely the indicator that I am not currently involved in “productive pursuits, as defined by the industrialist economy. I have no job, am not a student, and am not making money (legally, or by other means). What I have been able to do in the past three weeks is disentangle myself from the frenzy of my former state.

When I walked into the travel bookstore on 14th and V, I told the owner that I was getting ready to travel in South America for some time, and needed a guide book to start me off. Immediately I felt bombarded by feelings of guilt, elitism, privelege, and hypocrisy; earlier that day, I’d recieved a message from a friend in Miami reminding me that Dade County Public Schools had started without me. Rationally I am aware of the fact that my talents are going to be better utilized outside of Miami Central, that battling with hordes of 9th graders, the school system, and idiotic bureaucratic policies does not bring fulfillment to my life, but a very tiny part of me felt that I should be there to begin the new scholastic cycle. I then walked over to the stack labeled “Central, South America” and quickly got over myself. After a leisurely selection process, I returned to the counter to pay for my thick, juicy book ripe with possibilities. The clerk told me that I’d made a good choice, and I felt the need to justify my seemingly frivolous travel plans. “I just finished Teach for America” I told her, and it hit me. I finished. I’m done. My responsibilities and duties to the organization, the school system, to decorum, politeness, professionalism, and well-intentioned industry were over. This realization seemed beyond belief.

“It’s time to do something for me for a change” I said in response to her congratulations. Quite true. It is time for Thea. TFA changed my life in thousands of ways; it most definitely made me rethink my career goals and life plan, as well as my social and civic responsibilities. I do not, however, owe my life to TFA, or to the struggle against educational inequity. I gave them my promised two years, which goes above and beyond what they expect from most of their members. Shit, I even gave them their significant gains: take that, learning gap!

During my time in Miami I gave up a lot of me. It wasn’t all TFA’s fault, nor was it all Miami’s fault; a lot of it was the school, a lot of it was FIU, and a lot of it was me being willing to give. There were some things that I struggled fiercely to keep: home-cooked meals, sleep, weekends off, and a modicum of psychological detachment. I won most of the time.

Now, I don’t have to fight so much. I become a different person when I am not constantly under assault or attempting to attack something, and I like that different person a hell of a lot more.

I don’t do “nothing;” I cook, I enjoy the smell and feel of freshly laundered towels, I read a LOT, I exercise, I eat well, I see my boyfriend and my family, and I think. One thing that has been suspiciously absent from my life for a while is thinking. I’m talking about slow, plodding, idea-building synapse reactions that stimulate my brain. For the past two years or so I’ve calibrated my brain to last-minute decisions, scrambling to avoid punishment or retribution, and frenzied calculations of doing the least harm. Finally there is time in my schedule for less than lightning quick decisions, and time for thought about what exactly I want from life.

Most of the milestone decisions that I have encountered have been solved with non-decisions: soccer, college, and TFA. Traditionally, I am a horrible decision maker. Decisive, yes, but prone to agonize excessively and thus procrastinate past the point of effectiveness. Questions about grad school, my personal life, and my professional goals still encroach on my sunny perspective, but at least I can begin to think about them realistically and logically.

In the meantime, I enjoy doing “nothing.” It’s okay for a little while. It’s also okay if I cook a few dinners, do some laundry, and play the part of temporary homemaker. It’s not my calling, nor something that I would like to do long-term, but it’s comforting. D is finishing up his last week working for the Man in corporate America, and I have less scheduled responsibilities than he does. This provides me with great things, like the ability to ponder gender equality in the middle of the afternoon, a luxury that has been absent from my life for quite some time. It doesn’t make me less strong or less of a modern woman to do a load of laundry and put the dishes away, even though these seem like menial tasks.

It takes a lot to realize that what is fair is not always what is equal. I thought that I’d learned this lesson last year, but to truly understand it you have to have been on both sides. When shit hit the fan in the Zone, and State scrutiny of schools stepped up the pressure on everyone, D started coming to Miami a lot more than I ventured up north. It was a small concession, but it made my life immesurably easier. We didn’t travel an equal amount, and we didn’t quite spend an equal amout on seeing each other, but it was “fair” in both of our minds. This is no small accomplishment, and not something that we agreed upon instantaneously. Now that my life is somewhat less stressful than his, my belongings are (mostly) stored and organized, I get to return the favor, albeit in a different form. I am not rejecting feminism by cooking for my boyfriend and helping out around the house. It’s okay to help him move, because helped me do it in June. If I have to fold clothes for a week or so, I can temporarily adjust. It may not be an equal division of labor, but I believe that it’s fair. I know that at some point, he’ll return the favor.

In other contexts I might feel a little bitter, even resentful about my current posision in life, but since I am a sentient, logical being I do not. If I stop to think about things, my life begins to make sense again. It moves along with a pace that better suits my psyche. I may be homeless and unemployed, but I’m starting to use my out of shape brain, and it’s good to feel wheels grinding away up there. Let’s see where they take me.

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