Thursday, May 20, 2010

Year-long Recap

"experience has taught me all too well that if I were to do this for an extended period of time, removing the word "substitute" from my current designation, then whatever quality it is that makes me a particularly good teacher would fade away, and I would become that very stereotype which I now happily defy. I know that as soon as it ceases to be a role and becomes a defining feature of my existence, a vital part of myself is lost."

--castlerook, 2/20/09

" 'my challenge (for next year) is to learn how to teach while still living creatively.' I suspect what I need to do is to "teach creatively," i.e., to bring my creative spirit to all that I do--even to seemingly dry topics such as solving mathematical equations."

--castlerook, 6/3/09

And so now the academic year is at an end. I submitted all my grades yesterday, the commencement ceremony is tomorrow, and then just another meeting or two and my full-time obligations are over.

I'll still be doing some part-time teaching over the summer, and then it seems a change in direction is in store: this fall, I'll largely have my "old life" back--math tutoring and choral conducting, with an ample amount of to-be-allocated leisure time--but the conducting piece will include starting a choir at a different nearby* college.

*and when I say nearby, I mean really nearby--as in, I can walk there from my new house!**

**oh yeah, castlerook joined the ranks of first-time home buyers last October. All the cool kids were doing it, since Obama was making it sound all patriotic and even giving money away to folks like us. The new house is great--a small cape cod (just right for two) in a quaint little neighborhood.

So while the future holds promise, now seems a prudent time to reflect upon the past. The key question: what has teaching full-time again been like?

Well, it kind of sucked. If my challenge was indeed to live creatively while being a good productive member of society, then I pretty much failed. Most days after work I felt zapped--depleted of any creative energy, and wanting simply to hide from the world and all who lived in it. This I did fairly successfully--often by drinking alone while playing online poker.

So I'm glad it's over. Part of me feels that, financial concerns aside, this past year was a waste, and that I'm back to square one in terms of figuring out my so-called purpose in life.

And I feel the clock ticking. Thirty days from now, I'll be 30. This is a fairly terrifying thought, although I do have this secret hope that upon reaching that age, I will somehow instinctively know my purpose, and be able to begin my work.

But I have also come to realize that any purpose to my life likely must be a product of my own creation.

In truth, this past year was not a waste at all--for in the process of doing battle with various inner demons, I have certainly gained some valuable self-knowledge.

In summary:

1. I had my enneatype all wrong. In a previous post I described myself as a 2 with a 3 wing, and now I am convinced that I am actually Enneatype Six. Sixes are sometimes described as "The Loyalist" and other times as "The Devil's Advocate" or "The Questioner"--a seeming contradiction because Sixes are themselves contradictory, with a highly ambivalent relationship with authority--either fiercely loyal or deeply skeptical. Often both at the same time.

Sixes have big problems with anxiety and insecurity, and it was only after discovering I was this enneatype that I realized the full extent to which I have these problems. I suspect no one who knows me would be surprised to learn that I have anxiety issues, but I'd never fully realized it myself, because... well, I've never known anything else.

2. I have tendencies towards depression.

My brother suffers from clinical depression. Historically I have not, although I find it interesting that I always seem to have been drawn to people who do suffer from depression. I've often been "the healthy one" in a circle of depression-suffering friends. So when I realized last fall that I was experiencing all these symptoms I'd heard about, like feeling this big heavy weight upon waking up each morning, I was... surprised. But at least able to name it.

Things have gotten much better since then, though not altogether. It occurred to me a couple months ago that my symptoms of depression really didn't exist before I stopped eating meat last year, and I need to face the possibility that a correlation exists. So (and I trust my vegetarian and vegan friends will understand!) two weeks ago I started adding some meat back into my diet--chicken a couple times a week. I'll try that for a couple months while monitoring myself, then go from there.

3. If I have one antidote to feelings of depression, it's singing. Performing in general is good, but singing especially so.

There were two highlights in the area of public performance over the past year. The first came in January, when I had the opportunity to play one of my dream roles: Brad, in a local community theater production of The Rocky Horror Show. I may write more about this experience at a future date, but let's just say there are few things more liberating than being on stage in a corset, fishnets, and heels. While singing.

The second came a few weeks ago: singing in the chorus of a performance of the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Some time ago, I wrote a series of personal meditations about Beethoven's Ninth, covering the first, second, and third movements--but never managed to tackle the last. I would try, and then find that I just wasn't up to it. I suspect I'm able to do so now. Something finally clicked while helping to bring that work to life--the knowledge that personal existential struggle can only bring one so far, and that the divine joy expressed in the last movement can only be experienced through shared human interaction.

A short list, perhaps, but an important one. And with this very difficult year behind me, I have hope that the worst may truly be over--and that whatever challenges lie ahead, I may have the courage to face.