I had a writer’s block this weekend, and I now know exactly why. In fact, I knew why at the time, but I think I didn’t want to admit it to myself. As I said yesterday, my most salient written thoughts come from this weird, dysphoric haze, but what I left out was that it takes an extreme amount of vulnerability and truly not giving a you-know-what about others’ opinions of my writing or my thoughts, to actually make those thoughts relevant and comprehensible. Over the weekend, I remember sitting in several different coffee shops. In fact, I think I went to four different places, and in each of those places, my fingers seemed to freeze while I stared longingly out the window, waiting for the words to trickle from my brain, through my nervous system, and out of the ten appendages that usually dominate my keyboard.
But alas, on this day, I was unable to overcome it. And here’s why.
I wanted to write about something that happened to me–something that really upset me. Let’s be honest, I’m sensitive; I know it, and I’ll admit that lots of things bug me. It wouldn’t be the first time I had openly written about something that bothered me. No, this was different. It was different because in this instance, in particular, I was confronting the idea that I had done something wrong, even though I wasn’t quite sure what it was. Here’s the story.
I met a friend from work for a drink on Friday afternoon. We talked about some professional and personal aspirations, enjoyed each other’s company, and then went on our way. The sun was beaming in spite of the cool temperatures, and I felt relaxed and happy. I walked across the street, preparing to say goodbye to my friend, when a bright blue Post-it note practically screamed in contrast to my bright, yellow Fiat. I walked up, a little puzzled by who might have left a Post-it on my car. Then again, all of my students knew my car. It’s not exactly subtle–being all bright and yellow–but I suppose it’s an astute representation of my personality–“not exactly subtle.” Anyway, I approached the car, squinting as I reached closer to the note.
“You have forever ruined my childhood, Mr. France!” the aqua Post-it screamed at me.
At first, I giggled, sure it was a joke. I couldn’t for a second even entertain the idea that someone would leave such a note, but then I realized just what it said, that it was written anonymously, that it was an absolutely terrible thing to say to anyone, especially a teacher, but that terrible things happen everyday and this was my terrible thing. A dumbfounded sense of failure numbed my brain, and I felt my face go expressionless. My friend valiantly tore up the note, trying to distract me from what had just happened, meanwhile assuring me that it had to be a joke, even if it was a very poorly executed one.
But my feelings couldn’t be managed. I felt sad, angry, and most of all, embarrassed that this note had been sitting on my car for at least the better part of an hour for all to see. All I wanted to do was process through it and talk to someone about it. In fact, I saw another friend later that night, and couldn’t do anything but talk about it. I couldn’t understand why someone would hate me so much, and why someone would feel so strongly but still deal with it in such a cowardly manner.
And so I sat in the coffee shops the following day–all four–constantly reliving the moment with the bright blue Post-it note, unable to put it into words, unable to discuss it in writing, because I knew that when I did, it would suddenly become abrasively real, even less subtle than my bright yellow Fiat in the middle of a parking lot full of neutral-toned cars. I had to come to terms with the fact that someone thinks I’m a bad teacher, but what was even worse was that I wondered if it had something to do with who I was as a person. I wondered if it had to do with my sexuality.
Admittedly, that’s a leap, but as soon as I saw the Post-it and processed it, my mind began sprinting a retrospective marathon, my synapses rapidly firing in backward motion through every moment of imperfection, every moment of weakness, and every moment of vulnerability I had, both personally and professionally, over this past year: Did I say something wrong? Was I too hard on them? Was it because of those days I was in a bad mood? Was it because I reprimanded someone? Or was it because they now knew I was gay?
That Post-it note seemed to me a symbol–a symbol of being struck down in your most vulnerable state. And when things like this happen to us, it makes us afraid to continue our vulnerability, it makes us afraid to continue holding true to ourselves and our morals, and it makes us instantly regret each of our moments of vulnerability, however few and far between they are. It makes us want to curl up into a tortoise-like ball and run away from whomever tried to strike us down in the first place.
But we mustn’t do that, and that is precisely why I am confronting this here and now.
I am imperfect. Sometimes I’m a bad teacher, and some people aren’t going to like me. In fact, some will dislike me so much that they will go to great lengths to let me know about it, even if it is cowardly.
But I’m still me, I’m still here, and in this moment, I am okay.