Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Standing On The Edge Of The Rest Of My Life

“Nervous exhaustion in man is increasing with the speeding up of life leading to delirious excitement. People often return home after work showing signs of nervous exhaustion. As a consequence man’s concentration is weakened, and mental and physical efficiency is lowered. Man becomes easily irritated and is quick to find fault and pick a quarrel. He becomes morbidly introspective and experiences aches and pains and suffers from hyper-tension and sleeplessness. These symptoms of nervous exhaustion clearly show that modern man’s mind and body require rest—rest of a high quality.”
Piyadassi Thera

I did not want to write this piece. I did not want to write about myself. It is impolite to predominate the conversation, to obsess on one’s own predicament. I should be the least important person in the room. But it all comes back to this, to the self, and I cannot write honestly about others if I do not write honestly about myself.

“Come here, I want to show you your x-ray,” she says. She is my doctor. “Your lungs look pretty clear at this point, but see this white shadow in the center. That is your heart, and it is huge. Muscles get larger when they are working hard. In your arms and other areas that is a good thing, but in your heart, that means weakness. Your heart is not pumping effectively, and the blood is backing up in your lung causing fluid to interfere with your breathing and your heart beat. An enlarged heart is not good. If you do not do something about this, you might see fifty, but certainly not sixty.” She blushes when she says this. “I am sorry, but I must tell it like it is.”

It began as a chest cold. I lost my voice, and trying to speak caused a coughing spasm so intense that spots fluttered in front of my eyes. If I lay down in bed, I felt as if I was drowning. So I slept sitting upright in a chair for a few weeks, struggled to stand up in front of a class, until there was nothing left inside of me, and my chest ached like an earthquake fault.

Acute bronchitis. With inhalers, cough syrup, other medicines, it will eventually go away, but after nearly six weeks, I still do not feel like myself. But then there are the more permanent issues: hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure, obesity, sleep apnea. These are the things that will kill me. These are the things that killed my mother at sixty-one years old. And not dealing with these things is entirely my fault, my refusal to step up and take responsibility and do something. I stood over my mother’s dead body in the emergency room. I know how the story ends.

I think to distraction. I cannot move, I am paralyzed with thought. I am Hamlet contemplating what I should do, “to be or not to be?” It all comes down to that. Refusing to change my life is suicide, and I often engage in the self-pitying thought of “who would miss me if I were gone?” That is self-absorption. I can be a real jackass a lot of the time. No one knows what will come, what the future holds. That is what I tell my students. What kind of hypocrite am I if I do not believe this myself? Teachers should always tell the truth, even when the subject is the self. If we are not honest, we are nothing.

I decide to scale back. I will teach and put my energies there because I must work: I need the money and the mental stimulation. Teaching is important to me. If I must cut something, I will cut writing. I will give up this blog and all my other writing projects, even though writing is necessary to me as well. I trick myself into thinking I can jettison the pen and paper

I email my friend, William Michaelian, a writer and philosopher of amazing elegance and grace, and tell him I am shutting down The Teacher’s View. I do not say it directly, but I make it clear I am at a crossroads. He catches me like the net catches the falling trapeze artist. “I know your writing means something to me,” he writes. “If it were to cease I would try to accept it and understand, but it would be a lot like losing a beautiful old tree in the neighborhood—and the strange new patch of sky would be a constant reminder.”

Self-pity, self-pity, self-pity! I am a teacher because I love literature and stories and books and life and learning. I am a writer because I have something to say, stories to tell, ideas to explore. I cannot leave either behind.

So here we go. We must believe in spring. I pop Bill Evans’ lyrically sad jazz piano into the computer. Life is a journey. One foot in front of the other. Regroup, revise, restart, rewrite. Stop crying and get moving.

Outside in the early morning five a.m. light, Stone eats his breakfast while I let the cold wind wash over me and contemplate the sky. Canadian geese knife their way north, racing for summer. Their cries fill the morning. Nature goes on. Life goes on. And it will go on without me, but I would prefer that my journey continue for as long as possible. The road beckons. The struggle will be difficult, but difficult tasks offer the greatest reward.

Let’s go.


  1. Mr. Martin,

    This blog entry is possibly the most touching one yet. I wish you health Mr. Martin.

    Best Regards,
    Andrew A.

  2. Paul, this is an incredible essay, one which I struggle to respond adequately to. (Isn't it remarkable that there are some sentiments that seem impossible to express truly? But as you say, here we go...)

    Whatever it's worth, I have been reading your work for a substantial amount of time; I am finishing up a degree in English education (student teaching with juniors and seniors), and I happened upon your blog when looking for good teaching resources. What I found was that but a great deal more: interesting commentary on literature, but very compelling personal writing as well.

    So believe me when I say that I agree with the sentiment of your friend - your writing will be missed, but it would be understandable if you had to let it go. It's not selfish to be concerned about your own well-being, and even though you appear to be conflicted (writing is mentally necessary but possibly physically detrimental), I think you would be justified in making either decision.

    If you were never to write another thing for The Teacher's View, you would still be leaving behind something very beautiful and worthwhile. Keep fighting the urge to wallow in self-pity; most of us would do so well to have such an intimately reflective view of life, not to mention the eloquence to express it so.

  3. “who would miss me if I were gone?”
    many more people than you think...
    I wish you health Mr. Martin, I know it's not easy, but you teach our class, so I know you can do it!
    -Ani S.

  4. Thank you all for your comments and emails. I am humbled and encouraged by your statements of support.

    My students, especially, are so important to me. We spend so many days of our lives together. I know you are all under tremendous stress and pressure leading to AP exams. Hang in there; summer is coming. I know we can make it.

    Paul L. Martin

  5. Mr. Martin, do not give up on teaching, the blog, or your life. Keep fighting even if it seems the end of all hope, because in that dark tunnel there is always light.
    Remember that people will always have the memories they shared with you. Your students, your friends, your family. They enjoy your company, your laughter, and your jokes. I wish you your health Mr. Martin.
    -Vatche Y.

  6. Hey, Mr. Martin. Okay where to begin…well this entry got me to understand your perspective on the “debate” we had in class about the whole stress/college vs. doing your best/the best you can thing. I mean I’m standing on the edge of seventeen and at this point I can’t really think in the terms that I’m going to regret something in the future if I continue on this path filled with stress and so on and so forth but honestly it’s all we (I speak for all my friends and most my classmates) know. And even though we complain about it a hell of a lot, particularly in your class, it’s not self-absorption or self-pity because, you know what it’s your life, and our life and if we’re not thinking about ourselves and the situation we’ve put ourselves in then what are we supposed to think about, the mistakes the person down the street is making? I don’t think so. So yea, if I keep typing I’m just going to keep going in circles but all I can say for you is get better, and for me and the millions of other students on the road to self-destruction is “chill", because it might not even be worth it.

    P.S FYI this article is spreading like wildfire!

  7. OH P.S that was Elda I forgot to add my name...*smiles sheepishly*

  8. Mr. Martin,

    Thank you for this so eloquently and stoically stated essay; I, too, wish you health--may you continue to believe in spring.

  9. As someone who has just discovered your site (thanks to William Michaelian), I’ve been working my way through the archives. While I understand the need to cut back, I hope you’ll do what extends the journey as long as possible. Best wishes, and thanks so much for sharing with your writing.

  10. Dear Paul, I am an expat Angelino living in the very rural Midwest. I came accross your blog a year ago while looking for some fresh resources for the Lit. class I teach. Within a couple of days I had read all of your entries and have been hooked ever since.

    That being said, I understand the position you are in all too well, having been forced to make similar choices. Choose what is best for you. If you never write a post again, know that there really are people, many unknown by you, that have already been helped, encouraged and amused by your wonderful writing.

  11. I almost didn't leave a comment, no matter how many thoughts this essay stirred up in my mind. However, I felt greatly obligated to tell you that if you were gone, I would be one of the many people that would miss you. I hope you get better and keep writing, Mr. Martin.

    - Sosi

  12. Oh...I wish you were my teacher...*sigh*

  13. I would also miss you, as I have been following your blog for some time. Take care of yourself, and please find some time to write, even if it is just for yourself.

  14. Mr. Martin,

    I heard about this blog a long time ago, but I was too nervous to read it. You saw how easily I cried when we were watching Ordinary People in class the other day. I was a little afraid to face what I knew you'd be saying, but I'm glad I finally plucked up the courage to read this.
    Like everyone else said, I wish you health and a long life.
    I know how hard it is facing obstacles that seem to come at you from all sides - things you have no control over, but you can't give up, and you can't accept anything as an inevitability.
    I don't know if I really got across what I'm trying to say, but, nonetheless, you're an amazing writer, and an amazing teacher Mr. Martin.

    -Serli P.

  15. Thank you, Serli, and indeed, thanks to everyone who responded. I will try to avoid such self-absorption in the future, but it was really nice to know how many of you read my work, and take the time to email or comment. I am so lucky, and in turn, so humbly grateful.

    Paul L. Martin


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