Wednesday, September 1, 2010

These Days*

So it begins, another school year, and for the first time in more than two decades, I’m not there.

In June, I was quite startled to discover my job being advertised on a teacher employment website. Fifteen years at the school, and the administration did not have the decency to tell me face to face that I would not be asked back. No reason was given when I confronted the powers that be, because as the vice principal told me, “It’s a one year contract and we do not have to give a reason for non-renewal.”


My suspicion is that after fifteen years, the financially-troubled school wanted to divest itself of my salary. A clearly clueless vice principal and school board were icing on the cake. It was time for a change.

I have been steadily employed since freshman year of high school. I paid my own tuition for my Catholic secondary education and my university degree. For my high school, I picked up trash around campus in the morning before school, shelved books in the library, and taught the drummers in the marching band how to play a double-stroke roll on a snare drum. I also put in time stuffing envelopes at a travel agency during the summers.

In college, I filled parts requests for an aerospace firm until the shop closed. My girlfriend put up with the manure smell of my clothing when I worked at Target’s lawn and garden department. That job ended when I got pneumonia selling Christmas trees in the parking lot. Next, I worked security for a department store. Luckily, I landed in my teaching job before I got myself killed by a miscreant on a mission.

I have done my time.

But in this economy, jobs are hard to find, so I am not surprised to discover it is September, and I am pursuing freelance writing projects and contemplating a return to a graduate program or MFA.

Not being employed has its drawbacks. Two areas most acutely affected are my self-esteem and lifestyle. It is hard for me not to take unemployment as a personal affront. Books and articles I read tell me losing my job is not personal. It is just a fact of life in a recession. And now, when a potential employer gets hundreds of resumes for a single position, there is no rhyme or reason to the rejection. As William Saroyan wrote in The Human Comedy, “…every man in the world is better than someone else. And not as good as someone else.” I am often left scratching my head as to which I am in this crazy job market.

As for lifestyle, I have been hearing Henry David Thoreau in my head for quite some time now: “Simplify, simplify.” I have more books than I can read in my lifetime. I have a wife who loves me. What else do I need? Cut down, cut back, live simply, simply live.

We hurtle through life at such a breakneck pace that it is a blessing to be forced into taking some time to reflect. Teaching is a giving profession. You are there for others to help them reach their goals, maximize their potential, become better writers, realize their dreams. Teachers often have to put off their own questions and quests to give full attention to their students. You just push on, planning lessons, grading papers, counseling, consoling, encouraging.

I am finding a lot of solace in reconnecting with my deeper soul, reading philosophy, and considering where I want to go next. There is so much depth and texture to life when we look for it and allow ourselves time to sink into living fully each day. Will I go back to teaching? Sister Doris, my mentor, used to tell me that real teachers always find their way back.

For now, I’m writing, studying, reading, continuing to learn. I rise in the morning to the wind chimes on my neighbor’s porch. I feel the seasons changing, and at night, I hear the final baseball games of a dying summer played out at the park up the street. My days and nights have a rhythm of their own.

Sometimes, darkness overwhelms me, and I worry about the future. What secrets does it hold, what challenges, what successes, disappointments, tragedies? Where am I going?

Life is the journey, say the authors I read. We do not know what will come next, but it will come.

I am consoled by Galileo staring up at the vastness of the universe, wondering what it would be like to journey among the stars. Or Magellan, gazing across the wine-dark sea, dreaming of possible riches in a brave, new world. This is a time for considering the possibilities. It is not the end, but the beginning. We do not know what lies ahead on the journey, but we will find our way.

*Update: Check out William Michaelian's piece connected to my post on his excellent blog, Recently Banned Literature. His main site containing an archive of his writing is also a literary feast.


  1. Dear Mr. Martin,
    I know you will bounce back from this minor fallback. You are a great teacher and a great person. I don't know if your remember this but I once told you that you were my favorite teacher and this was in the 6th grade, and you still are. You made teaching fun and understandable and you like what you do or else you wouldn't be still teaching. That school where you taught lost a great teacher.
    Take care,
    Silverio de Pablo

  2. Thank you, Silverio. My classes at SJA remain near and dear to me. I appreciate the good thoughts. They are much needed these days. I hope you and your family are well, and I enjoy hearing about your trips and adventures on Facebook. I send you back good thoughts and vibes.

  3. What a delightful surprise today, to find a new posting from you! It seems like forever. WELCOME BACK!! Im sure I'm not alone in saying I have really missed your excellent essays and book reviews.

    Maybe it was only peripherally a matter of decreased funding (the reason for the school letting you go); maybe, in a larger sense, it merely functioned as the catalyst to propel you to where you will be much happier in the long run, doing what you love, without the frustrations of school bureaucracy or academic constraints felt previously. And maybe, perhaps it was time to move on, even if you hadn't yet considered it. Regardless of how it happened, or why it happened, maybe you might entertain the idea that THAT it happened was in the end, a good thing. Because what comes down the road in its place may be far, far better than you'd ever dreamed.
    Don't dismiss this as the ramblings of a blog fan. Hey, you never know. It just might be.

    Please keep us posted, Paul, and do share some of your creative efforts re: the new projects with us here on your blog. Your writing has been sorely missed.

  4. I was stunned to hear how you lost your job! How sad that the students have lost such a great teacher. My husband lost his job 14 months ago @ age 52. This has help him define & find what he wants to spend the rest of his life doing. Hopefully it be so for you also. May your next step be one that refreshes & recharges you! You (& your wife) will be in our prayers.

  5. Thank you, Annie. I took a little time to clear my head, but I feel better writing than not writing.

    I have appreciated your support off the blog with the links you sent me. I will definitely keep you posted on my progress.

    Of course, I will be checking in with your blog as well. I need my Canadian "fix," and I am also anticipating the arrival of our "birds of the north." I finally have time to spend searching the sky for their distinctive V shaped flying pattern.

  6. Lori, thank you for the good thoughts and prayers. This whole unemployment crisis seems to have affected middle-aged workers, especially. I have been doing a lot of research about it in anticipation of writing some articles. I believe the economy, the recession, unemployment, and the mortgage crisis will be the topics of the next several years. People are only beginning to pay attention, what with the war, terrorism, and the oil spills. We have some serious domestic issues facing us in America these days. And the crisis is only beginning...


I would love to know who is commenting. Therefore, please use the selections below to identify yourself. Anonymous is so impersonal. If you do not have a blog or Google account, use the Name/URL selection. Thanks.