Monday, February 25, 2008

frustration and inadequacy

Once again the snow is falling outside: a Winter Storm Warning is in effect for the whole area, and today's journal topic in my classes was Snowzilla 4: Return of the Creature That Ate the Highways. (I used Matchbox Twenty's "Mad Season" as the accompanying music, which is a tribute to how well I am handling all of weather.) There is no more salt here in Chicago's burbs; roads were caked with packed and potholed ice compacted from condensed snow after the last storm; I'm sure that they will be again tomorrow, especially since temps are supposed to fall back into Day After Tomorrow territory.

On these days it's easy to feel less than fully vital.

The truth is, though, that I often feel thus. I always have been plagued by nagging feelings of inadequacy in pretty much every aspect of my existence. It's not that I don't have an ego, not that I don't believe in myself or my abilities, not even that I am shy–who could be shy and post her life on the internet, for goddess' sake?–but more that I cannot seem to reconcile fully my desire to do well, my ability to do it, and even the results I manage to attain with the way that all of this is perceived–or, it seems to me, not perceived–by others. I shouldn't care, I suppose, whether I receive any recognition for anything I do, and I keep telling myself and others that it does not really matter.

But here's the truth: it does.

In the days after the Oscars, a night when Hollywood gathers together for a veritable orgy of self-congratulation, I find myself thinking about the value of others' opinions in the maintenance of our own self-esteem. With the Oscars, it isn't even all about actually winning the award; the phrase "Academy Award nominated" follows someone forever just as "Academy Award winning" does." This isn't football, where Super Bowl losers fade into oblivion a week after the game. Just being here really does mean something. And maybe that is because the nominations are voted upon only by those in the Academy who are actually peers of the nominees: editors vote for editors, directors vote for directors, etc. When you are nominated, your peers said you were one of the best. The award itself is gravy.

I think of my own life and I realize that, if I could only have that kind of moment, that kind of external validation, every once in a while, it would help alleviate a lot of my personal turmoil. And then I think how absurd and how sad it is that I need or think I need that validation. Why isn't it enough just to do something for the pure satisfaction of doing it?

Well, the truth is, I guess, that it is. It must be. That's really all I ever get. But still, on crappy days like this, when my mind is clouded by the oppression of the weather and Seasonal Affective Disorder is wreaking havoc with my mental equilibrium, I really wish there were something more.

When my daughters, for whom I sacrifice everything and for whom I would do anything, get into one of their teenage moods and insist that I am constantly ignoring them or always canceling things or forever focusing on the other daughter or on my husband, that matters. It is inconceivable to me that, even for a moment in their hormone-addled post-pubescent brains, they could fail to recall the five billion times I've gone out of my way to drive them here or there, to take them to libraries or shopping, to attend soccer games and performances, to make life as special as I can, to ask with sincere interest about their days (and never ever accept the teenage default answer of "fine"), to spend hours and hours letting Julie drive, even in snowstorms, because she needs to learn, even when I have been sitting next to her frightened to death, to travel with them across the country so often that each of them has been in all fifty states already in their young lives, to take Melanie alone to a four day folk festival in New York and to rock concerts by her favorite bands (even if I don't like them myself), or just to lie on a couch or a bed and hug them.

I may not deserve the Oscar for Best Mother, but I deserve at least to be recognized. Or not put down.

Still, this is teenagers...and family...and things do sometimes get a bit intense in those departments. If that were all, I wouldn't think twice. But of course it is not all. I feel these doubts creep into me in practically every area of my being.

I've never been one who has amassed large numbers of close friends; why is that? I know a lot of people and I think I'm a nice enough person. People do seem to like me more often than not; why are most of my relationships so superficial? I've worked the same job for 25 years; how many close friends do I have there? Well, if you count as "close friends" those who call you up once in awhile to see if you'd like to do something, the answer borders on zero. But then, who do I call? Why am I so reluctant to risk putting myself out there? Is it still the same fear of rejection that ruled so much of the first decades of my life? Over a hundred people came to my wedding last year, and it made me very happy to know that so many cared. It also actually surprised me. There had been times when I wondered if anyone at all would come. I had family that didn't. I had good friends that couldn't. And I had all of these others who made the effort, but still I wonder why they did: for me? For the event? The spectacle? A person more solidly grounded in her own self-worth would not question such matters, but I do. I count my blessings, but I always wonder if I'm the only one who notices.

I possess gifts to give also. I believe I am a talented teacher and a talented writer and a talented director. I have given back to my school a hundredfold from each of these gifts over the nearly quarter century I've taught here. And I know there are some who understand that, and I am so fortunate that three of them have been my immediate supervisors. But how do those above my supervisors perceive me? When I do nothing other than give my heart and soul to this institution? When I spend fifteen years and thousands and thousands of working hours–many of which were extra, on "my own time" sort of hours–building a theatre program from a good one to a great one? When I show my dedication to that task by undertaking to get a Masters Degree in Directing (the only one in the school to possess one)? When I direct extra shows and ask no recompense whatsoever from the school? When, in the course of my daily task of teaching English, I have five, ten, fifteen conferences a day, at busy times as many as a hundred in a single week, working with students through planning periods, through lunch hours, and as late after school as they need me (though my daughters complain)? When my students have been IATE winners now something like thirteen years in a row?

How do they see me?

Well, I don't know, but I suspect that it isn't as I'd like them to. But there are other times when even I wonder if I am I as effective an educator as I like to think I am. Maybe. I have enough students who seem to think they've gotten something from my classes, though there are times when I feel I am woefully inadequate in the way I am covering this or exploring that. And I know that there are some kids who leave the class thinking that it was bad, or that I was bad. You can't please everyone, something in my head tells me, but my heart screams out WHY ON EARTH NOT? and insists that I am not effective enough if I fail to motivate every last one of them. Sometimes it's worse than that: there was one junior boy three years ago who hated me. He thought, I found out at the end of the year, that I was the worst teacher he's had in high school. Apparently I had said some off the cuff comment in October that had offended him, and he had allowed it to fester all year long without my notice. I apologized, of course, when I found out about it, but the sting of that assessment sticks in my craw (wherever a craw is) and I realize that I agree at least in principle with No Child Left Behind. I hate failing anyone at all. I feel as if I have failed myself.

I wonder too if I have failed myself somehow when I think about my book, unpublished and unable to attract the interest of an agent despite the fact that so many students have found it enjoyable. Maybe I write these blogs so I'll at least be able to say something of mine was read by someone...

When I was directing, I did 33 plays and musicals in 15 years. Not all were completely successful, but most were. And some were as good as I could imagine them being–and I can imagine a lot. I'm proud of what those actors and techies accomplished in shows like Children of a Lesser God, Noises Off, Crimes of the Heart, Fiddler on the Roof, Drood, The Grapes of Wrath, Ten November, Into the Woods, and so many others. I believe that I proved myself again and again in these productions, and that in each of them I gave everything I had to the kids. But as with my children, is it so easy to forget the endless list of good works if there is something–even a minor something, even an imagined something–more recent that blocks those memories. Do memories count if no one remembers them?

I ask myself if it is really so important to be recognized for my contributions. After all, isn't the joy in doing them? And I know: of course it is. I would certainly keep doing them...forever... with no recognition at all if I could. Recognition is only an artificial acknowledgment that you are doing something right. I don't need that, not really. I need the paper to become better or the performance to grow stronger. I need a reader to wink in agreement or an audience to laugh in the right places. Why should I need a nod from On High? Besides, knowing that they felt so little about my work in theatre, about which I felt good, I wonder whether they feel exactly the same about my work in English, about which (after all) I feel the same way. And I wonder if I am just fooling myself after all, if this is all some kind of grand delusion and some day they'll all find out that I really don't know what the heck I am doing.

Recognition wouldn't really change any of that. But I have to admit it would be nice to know that they notice that they've got something good here. Assuming they do, of course, and that I'm not just some little girl who has fallen asleep in math class and has dreamed the whole darned thing.



Anonymous said...

I remember six years ago, when they took theatre away from you. I remember wanting with all my heart to go to their offices and throttle them, force them to see how wrong they were. In fact, I think the only thing stopping me was my lack of driver's license. I have seen so many high school productions, at your school, mine, and others, and none were anywhere near on par with yours. High school plays were just that-- high school plays. Nothing to get excited about, something fun to do... unless you were directing. Then it was an event, a must-see. You drove high school students to heights I have never before seen, and never since. A few of the more obscure plays at Stevenson came close (I remember thinking 'Picasso at the Lapin Agile' and 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead' were almost as good as yours). Musicals, especially... yours were the cream of the crop. Or perhaps another crop entirely.

The way they treat you at that school is a crime against nature.

Unknown said...

Thank you. It would count more coming from someone who was NOT my son. :-)

Love the passion though.


it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be

Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
  • M*A*S*H
  • The West Wing
  • The X-Files
  • The Daily Show
  • Ally McBeal
  • Picket Fences
  • All In The Family
  • Seinfeld
  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Star Trek
  • Firefly
  • Wonderfalls
  • Northern Exposure
  • Get Smart
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show
  • Twin Peaks
  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
  • Felicity
  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
  • Scandal
  • Fairly Legal
  • Girls
  • Don't Trust the B---
  • Justified
  • Portlandia
  • Psych
  • The Middle
  • Person of Interest
  • Happy Endings
  • Hart of Dixie
  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
  • Glee
  • Haven
  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
  • The Colbert Report
  • Parks and Recreation
  • Leverage
  • Rachel Maddow Show

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