One of the main reasons why I decided to leave classroom teaching was because no matter how hard I tried to balance work with free time, my teaching duties always trumped everything else. Even when I was able to carve out a few hours or (rarely) an entire day of the weekend to devote to myself, there was always a nagging sense of guilt, the quiet calculations of how many less hours of sleep I was going to get as a result of allowing my conversations with friends or family to linger longer than expected. No matter how much I worked, there were always papers to be graded, lessons to be planned, reading to complete, grades, paperwork, the list goes on. I was never really away from teaching as my mind was always working on a new idea, a new lesson plan, or replaying something I wished I had handled different in the classroom.
When I made the decision to move from Massachusetts and start my life over in July, I made the decision also to leave teaching. Now, I’ve found myself working full-time in a bookstore, making less than a third of my former salary, doing a job I could have had in high school, one I did have in college. When I was 21 and freshly graduated with three degrees I promised myself to never return to working retail. Nine years and a master’s degree later and I’ve gone right back to where I began, but this time I’m happy with the work I do. In many ways, my real work begins when my shift ends.
I stayed late at the bookstore on Friday night to host an author event. As I left the sky had already grown dark. I stopped mid-way at the grocery store to break up my 20 mile commute home in the rain drenched darkness. I texted a friend from the parking lot and made my way to his house after dropping off the groceries.
We stayed up into the early morning hours drinking tea, talking, enjoying each other’s company. After arriving home I noted how I’d barely have made it to ten o’clock on a Friday night after teaching all week.
On Saturday I survived my first North Carolina hurricane. I spent the afternoon sorting through boxes of books and kitchen utensils, redistributing, organizing, cleaning and integrating things into my home, unpacking after my third move in three months and finally feeling as if I’d settled in.
When the clearing was finished I set a candle on the center of the coffee table and rolled out my pale blue yoga mat across the living room floor. I led myself through a yoga practice that morphed into one of my famous one-woman dance parties. Later, showered and dressed, I sat down to write my first article in over a month.
I slept soundly and woke in time for my favorite local dance class. For 90 minutes every Sunday the local Masonic Temple becomes a space for free movement where I twirl and flail my body around with 40 or so others across the polished hardwood floors beneath the towering ceilings.
I thumbed through a new cookbook during a long, leisurely breakfast, noting on a paper the recipes I wanted to try soon and creating a shopping list for later in the day. I planned to spend the rainy day baking, but as I swallowed the last ounce of coffee from my mug the sun shone through the clouds and the ground dried up as if it hadn’t been raining for the past week. I tramped outside in bare feet and pulled my lawnmower and rake from the garage. I piled the wet, sloppy leaves in one neat pile, then ran the lawn mower across the grass. The bits and scraps flew across the blades that glinted in the sun.
When the last blade of grass was pared down, I got in my car and drove to Trader Joe’s, new shopping list in hand, then stopped at Lowe’s for lawn and leaf bags on the way home.
My car unloaded, I drove to meet a friend at a nearby trail head. We walked briskly through the woods on a wide, flat trail, watching the changing leaves flutter down in our path. We circled back to our cars, then lingered, talking for a while longer.
Back home I bagged the leaves and piled them roadside for tomorrow’s collection. I overturned the garden bed soil then planted a fresh array of fall crops: deep green kale, purple bok choy, leafy collard greens, fresh basil, parsley, and oregano. I filled a pot with fresh fall flowers on the front steps.
I showered to wash the earth from my fingers and feet, then set to making a meal from a recipe I’d bookmarked before lunch. Full from creamy pasta, dishes washed and set to dry, I pulled up on the couch, laptop in lap to write.
I’ve done more in a single weekend than I might have in an entire season as a teacher. I will return to work tomorrow morning feeling refreshed, renewed, ready for the week ahead.
Earlier today as I described my new life to a friend of mine from Massachusetts he remarked that I was lucky. It wasn’t luck that brought me here. I’ve been working toward this move for years. I’ve made my life everything it is today. I’ve found a way to fill my days with my favorite things, begun to live by the tea tag that I taped to my refrigerator years ago, “Work, but don’t forget to live.”