Our theme for the month of March is “Part Two.” Writers were challenged to choose a piece they’ve previously contributed to the post calvin and revisit it, perhaps writing a sequel or reflecting on how things have changed.
Gabe’s original post is “The Great Tassel Shift.”
“Congrats on The Great Tassel Shift!”
I unstuck the yellow, star-shaped note from my groaning desk. I puzzled for a moment at the perky cursive before recognizing the title of a piece I’d written two years earlier during my first year of teaching. The piece a Spark editor had asked my permission to publish back around Christmas time. The piece the post calvin editors had chosen to publish in our anthology that November. The piece I had written at 3:00 a.m. on a school night because I couldn’t get it out of my head. The piece that had been simmering within me for the better part of a year.
I swiveled to my computer and clicked to the Spark website. Five cartoon Gabes traipsed up, down, and around a big, green graduation cap. The half-groomed hair. The princely walking posture. The sweater-button-up shirt combo. Had someone researched me?
I was flattered.
Here my words were in print. There I was in doodle. They had even added a subtitle: “YOUNG ALUM SHARES LIFE LESSONS.”
I looked around my dimmed classroom. I had time before lunch was over. I would indulge myself.
I re-read the piece.
It was nice. It was tidy. It was…sweet.
In the piece, I wrestle with the sharp pivot from investing in oneself to investing in others that graduation represents and eventually pin down the proclamation that it’s worth it!—that funneling one’s time and energy into others is worth depleting those same resources for oneself. The whole saccharine sentiment simmered down to one passage:
“It’s frustrating to serve others when I still have such an appetite for personal betterment, and at times it has made my first year of teaching embittering. But now, almost a year since graduation, the ache has diminished. This is partly because I’ve learned that investing in others and investing in myself are not mutually exclusive, but mostly because I’ve learned that if they were, the former would be a far more rewarding choice.”
I surveyed my classroom—floor bristling with broken pencils, whiteboard smeared with layers of erased conjugation charts, counters crushed by ungraded assignments I was avoiding like debt collectors, the inevitable detritus that results from teaching 130 students how to say the colors in Spanish—and I could not help but question the author of “The Great Tassel Shift”: Did he really believe those things he wrote, or was he peddling tepid platitudes? Was he being honest or was he being a poster boy? Was he trying to convince others of something or was he trying to convince himself?
Because things had changed. I was no longer a first year teacher in May, looking back at my maiden voyage through a school year. It was my third year. It was March. And if I wasn’t entirely honest back then, I had to be now: I wasn’t sure it was worth it. The nights falling asleep on the couch at 12:45 a.m. with a pile of papers half-graded at my feet and the mornings waking up at 6:15 a.m. with lessons half-planned in my head no longer justified the stories unwritten and books unread, the cities unexplored and curiosities unwondered.
I was teaching halfway out the door.
Now, a year later, I’m not just out the door; I’m down the hallway, through the front doors, right out of the parking lot, left onto the East Beltline, merged onto the interstate, and all the way across the country. Living in a big city. Living for myself.
Now, when I wake up at 7:00 a.m., I can luxuriate over my oatmeal and my notebook before preparing myself for the day. When someone walks into my office, I am relieved to see that there are not twenty-nine more of them. When I leave work, it doesn’t follow me home. When I do get home, I lounge on our ugly green leather couch and read books about love and Italy. When I’m hungry, I eat. (When I’m not hungry, I eat.) When I’m tired, I sleep. When I am sick, I rest.
And yet, when I meet someone new and they inevitably ask, “What do you do?”, my answer is always the same: “I work on the support team at a small tech company, but I spent the past three years as a high school Spanish teacher.”
I want the noble purpose of an educator without having to put in the hours. I want to retain a teacher’s saintly glow without having to fight for the daily miracles. Still deriving pride from the profession I abandoned. Still coasting on the fumes of past self-sacrifice. Still wanting to be congratulated on The Great Tassel Shift.
And yet, every so often, when my new life isn’t everything I imagined, I remember that impasse of unmarked student essays, those bleary-eyed morning drives, the physical weight and texture of the exhaustion, and I am happy for now.
“Congrats on The Great Tassel Shift!”
For what it’s worth, I think that the author of “The Great Tassel Shift” meant what he said, and I hope that someday he and I can find a compromise.
But for now, you can redact your congratulations. Shift the tassel back. Take the cap all together! I am not yet ready to share life lessons. I have far too much more to learn.
Gabe Gunnink (’14) lives in Seattle, where he works for a European travel company and gawks at the landscapes and skylines surrounding him. In his free time, he enjoys practicing Portuguese under his breath on city buses, running far enough to justify eating an entire pan of cinnamon rolls, and faithfully implementing Oxford commas.