Sunday, March 7, 2010

Burnout is A Part of The Plan


"Trudging the Road to Happy Destiny."

Silly me for taking it so seriously. Silly me for feeling guilty or ashamed for not being able to fulfill my duties.

This morning, NOLA.com featured an article about the charter school movement in New Orleans.http://www.nola.com/education/index.ssf/2010/03/new_teachers_working_long_hard.html

It didn't reveal anything I didn't already know first hand, like long hours, low pay, an excessive drive to raise scores, but it did reveal a mind set about burnout. I assumed that my leaders were too busy driving culture and curriculum to have thought about what happens to a teacher who is burning out, but apparently, according to Andrew Rotherham, it was all apart of the plan.

He states, "I don't think turnover is inherently bad," said Andrew Rotherham, publisher of Education Sector, an education policy think tank. "Planned turnover or turnover you can deal with without yielding quality is fine." * I think there is a typo there, and I assume yielding should say "affecting" or something like that.*

Turnover is such a nice word. Reminds me of fruit filled pastries or when it's time for a back rub. But what does turnover look like? Do I look like turnover?

For anyone who looks at my blog, it's not called Ariel Pork for nothing. I feel like the flying pig, a laboring soul who spends so much time with his nose in the mud, never remembering he's got wings. I've been practicing Zen for 7 years, practicing yoga for 2, in A.A for 1, and seeing a therapist (off and on) for a year. Given my background of growing up in relative chaos and shaky households, I've always had a tough time with depression, anxiety, and worst of all, panic attacks. Teaching in the Recovery School District has seemed to amplify every condition, which is good and bad.

Good or bad, it's been quite disruptive. And it comes with a good bit of shame and guilt I have to constantly defuse, let go, and accept. (Is that so bad a skill set?)

The whole country knows that this charter school movement found a peitre dish in post-Katrina New Orleans. Coming from a long lasting horrible tradition of public education in the city, it didn't seem that there was anything to lose. Accept maybe yourself.

If Andrew Rotherham thinks my burnout is an acceptable cost, maybe he should know what it looks like: Waking up at 3am not being able to breath, drunken escapades on Bourbon Street followed by extreme Zen retreats, crying, crying when the relationships failed, crying when you lost the dog, crying in front of students, violence, hitting another teacher, violence, having students push you, and you push back, screaming, feeling lost, feeling worthless, feeling less-than, feeling hopeless, feeling doomed, with glimpsing visions of the solace of death.

All over A,B,C and 1,2, 3? I must be kidding myself. I should thank Andrew and be on my way. There is a great matter to attend to and I don't think it's whether or not we all know how to explicate a poem or identify a gerund.

It's tempting to make a big stink. I know my activist Buddhist friends will think I should write an op-ed or make a statement, and frankly, I do feel like filing for disability, taking the care I should have taken for the last 3 years while I worked long hours ( holding a record at school for 6:30am to 11pm- ask my principal). But they don't give disability for resentment. And my panic attacks and depression are manageable, even if I did miss 3 days of work last week.

Honestly, I am thankful. The students I have encountered, the hard drive, the amplification of all my ancient twisted karma, is perfect in a way. How long would it have taken me to really sink into my zafu? How long would it have taken to recognize alcoholism as a real thing and not just some club my Dad, Grandfather, and Grandmother belong to?

And I've got 3 months left. I put in my intent to return and I'm letting go of all the mess (and the glory). What will I do next year? No clear idea, but things seem to work out, and for once, I don't have my entire future locked in.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wall Jumping.


I often think about Siddhartha and his decision to jump over the palace wall, leaving Yashodhara his wife, his son Rahula, and all of his responsibilities, the palace- the good with the bad. I wonder how long he stared at that wall.

Today, I'm writing while in the problem. Most of the time I avoid my blog while I'm in "the problem" and come later with the solution, so I can show how resilient I can be. I'm coming today while still in the problem, to write about it now in a vulnerable way.

I'm pretty sure my last post was about how great I was I doing. Zen every morning, yoga every night, success in the classroom, and having enough energy to get it all done. Well, Wednesday came, and I couldn't do it, again. I couldn't go to work. Thursday was worse and today is better, but I'm at home, trying to settle.

This spell may have come as early as 3am on Monday, when I awoke with thoughts racing through my head. It was noise. There were messages. Nothing to vile, nothing too negative. Big questions, really.

Tuesday, again, I was up well before my alarm with a couple hours of sleep. Went to the temple, went to work, went to yoga.

Wednesday and thoughts had transformed into pain-in the chest, in the stomach- and into fatigue. On Thursday, I called my therapist, and he saw me right away.

He said he wasn't surprised. That when you're a recovering alcoholic and from an addicted family, I can find a lot of "triggers" in a 10 hour work day.

And all the while I'm being diagnosed and talked to, I'm thinking this is bullshit, evident and clear, and I know what I should do. I should leave all this behind, leave the psychoanalysis in that office, my job, my life, and go attain suchness without delay.

That I'm not crazy, this damn world is crazy, and I know where to go.

So why don't I do it when I know the Buddha did it? Because, the Buddha wasn't the Buddha yet. He was a way-seeker named Gautama and he went through a lot of extremes before finding the middle way. And I believe he did that for us, so we don't have to jump the wall; we actually have to do something harder.

What's harder than staring at the wall? We can't stare at our teacher, we can't stare at the Buddha, because these things are outside ourselves. Our teacher's support only helps so much- at some point, and the earlier the better, we have to find contentment in just the practice- not the place, not the names, not the different colored kesa and rakusu draped on human shoulders.

The only shoulders we need worry about are our own, and we should make sure they're slightly back, while head presses the sky and knees press the earth. Eyes gaze at the wall, inward, and this was Buddha's final teaching.

I don't jump the wall because I know it's only my ego that wants to jump. It sounds better and more grand to become a monk than all of this: to work on yourself with a therapist, to miss work when I need to, to go to A.A meetings, to sit in a small unknown temple with questionable lineage than to accept current limitations that the body/mind are demanding I attend to.

Acceptance and surrender are going to be big part of my path. Even since the shit hit the fan, I've been more focused on being "better" than becoming better. And naively, I always assume my condition, my ancient twisted karma, is in the past, that I can "think" it away by simply believing there is no past. I may be right about that, but that doesn't excuse me from the karma. Karma can be like rust.

You can accept rust, you can drive with rust, and you can forget about when the rust encroached on the surface and interior of being. You can chug right along. But that doesn't mean we should ignore rust. Instead, maybe it's a unique opportunity to take care of something, something that's born and needs attention until it grows up.

Maybe I'm just growing up.