Flying Leaps

When I told the principal at my school on Wednesday that I’m resigning, she asked me, “Are you sure?”

And the answer was no. 

So I kinda shrugged and looked at her sheepishly, trying not to cry.

I guess she took that as an opportunity to ask again, “I mean, are you sure?”

In my head I was thinking, please stop asking me that, knowing that it would get harder and harder to say yes with any conviction.  I’ve been at my school for almost six years now; for the better part of my adult life.  Remarkably, I tend to do really well with change.  But I don’t like it, and this is a big one.  I honestly love the kids at my school, and I work with amazing, inspiring people.  They’re some of the best friends I’ve ever had.  Teaching is absolutely a part of my identity.

But there’s another part of my being that I’m not addressing nearly enough.

If you’d asked me what I wanted to be when I was in fifth grade, I would have told you:  A writer.  I was the kid who always had a journal filled with poems, song lyrics, stories, and story ideas.  (And yes, I still have those journals.  But no, I will not be showing them to anyone.)  I went to creative writing classes at the local library through my teen years, and took advantage of the frequent author visits in my little college town.  When I went to college I studied English Literature, but I also made sure to fill my course load with writing opportunities.  One time I waited outside the student center building for two hours, just to catch a professor on his way to his car.  We didn’t know each other before I accosted him (for lack of a better word), but by the time we finished talking he’d agreed to give me credit for an intensive semester-long, one-on-one poetry seminar.

Clearly I had dreams of writing.  But somewhere along the line, that goal got smaller and smaller, like the headlights of a car that you pass on the highway.  You know it’s still there, somewhere behind you on the open road, but you can’t really see it. The girl who tracked down professors to make them teach her to write—the person who chased after what she wanted, no matter how silly it seemed—got left behind after graduation.  I stopped calling myself a writer, and eventually stopped even thinking of myself that way.

There’s something terrifying about saying that you’re a writer.  If you never publish anything, are you still a writer?  How do you answer when people ask you what you’ve written?  I suppose that at some point, my fear got the better of me.  Or maybe I’m being too self-critical; maybe it was a need for stability, or a desire for routine, or sheer momentum that led me away from my fifth-grade dream and on to an arguably more stable career path. 

Then, in March of 2008, I found myself at a party in Manhattan, talking to a writer.  (I’ve mentioned this before, so if you’ve read it in an earlier post, please feel free to skip ahead!)  I was asking him about his current projects, his degree, his craft.  When he asked me what I did, I didn’t even hesitate.  “I’m a writer,” I said. 

I flushed immediately.  Had I been drinking too much?  Where had that come from? 

My oldest and dearest friend, Sarah (who brought me to the party), asked me later, “Don’t you think that means something?”

That night stayed with me, but it was still quite some time before I gathered the courage to make something happen.  Over the last eighteen months, I’ve tapped back into that part of me.  I’ve dusted off my journals and my quills.  On one fated Saturday morning, when I was feeling more than a little lost in the world, I picked up my pen and found myself again.  (Sorry, I’m keeping the specifics of that time to myself.)  And that was the day that I came out of the writing closet and started to call myself a writer again.  I returned to some older projects, and began a few new ones.  I hit it as hard as I could, while teaching at the same time.

Unfortunately, one of the things that (I think) makes me a good teacher is that I care so much.  To do it the way that I want to, teaching requires 110% of my time and energy.  I bring it home with me, literally and emotionally.  Just a few nights ago, a new friend pointed out that it’s hard to create under those circumstances.  And he’s right.  When I’m pushing the kids to create all day, I come home and my brain is mush. 

Granted, I have the weekends.  And I use that time as much as I can.  But I’ve determined that the weekends aren’t enough.  Especially since writing isn’t just about the creative process.  It isn’t only honing your craft.  It’s about networking, and self-promotion, and industry savvy.  None of which I can develop without sufficient time.  I know that there are people who do it, but I’ve realized that I’m not one of them.  And doing this half-assed isn’t working for me anymore.  If I’m going to be successful at this, I have to approach it like I did before, and like I do my teaching:  Full-throttle, 110%. 

This brings me back to telling my principal that I’m not coming back next year.  Having made the decision only hours before I spoke to her, I was still reeling with the weight of that choice.  For months I’d been agonizing over this decision, and I didn’t come to it lightly.  So no, I wasn’t sure.  I just knew that it’s time for me to take a flying leap and hope that I land on my feet.

3 Responses to “Flying Leaps”

  • Maquel Says:

    Hey Colleen! Good for you! I’ve always thought of you as a ‘writer’ (among other identities! teammate, friend, actress, singer, all around awesome girl!) and I’m glad that you are back to thinking of yourself as one! That is quite the plunge, letting go of your current identity to delve into writing full force….I admire you for doing it, and not just taking the ‘safe’ route. Dreams live on! I find your story interesting, as my hubby has always had a dream to write (and moreso to be published) as well….and he is also a teacher. He has completed his first novel and is in the process of trying to get it out there. And it is quite a process. I never knew how much was involved with query letters, agents, self promotion, etc!!! I admire the work he has done as well, but he is only able to do it outside of school time, much like the time you have devoted to writing over the past few years. I hope he succeeds in the publishing aspect, but I try to convey to him that he can still write and ‘be a writer’ without being published, and that it may happen one day!! I wish we were financially able to allow him to devote all his time to writing….and maybe one day we will be, but as for now, I will live vicariously through you for him! I am jealous of you, for him!! 🙂
    Anyway, Coll, sorry for the diarrhea of the mouth, but the topic is one of great interest to me, because it affects Alan so much….I wish you all the luck in the world and I can’t wait to read your work!!!

  • Kari Lavelle Says:

    Whoopeee!!! I’m so excited you’re taking this leap!

  • jessica Says:

    I am so happy for you! You are amazing!

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