Today I made a momentous decision. I chose to follow my heart instead of my head. I chose to take care of myself instead of jumping back into taking care of a room full of university students.
A little over a year ago I lost my teaching job at UC Irvine to severe budget cuts. This morning I received an email from my program director Lynda offering me two courses this fall. This represented $10,000 worth of income and a chance to get my foot back into the door during hard economic times. It also made me feel very much appreciated and wanted.
But after going over all the pros and cons and talking to my “touchstone” people, I wrote Lynda an email saying sorry, but I can’t accept it. The reason I gave was my chronic hoarseness and inability to speak well. It is true that I am just at the beginning of my treatments to get my voice back, and that I cannot count on my being able to lecture for four hours, twice a week, attend meetings, and be present for students during office hours when sometimes I can’t speak without coughing and I have barely any volume in my voice.
But the real reason is that I don’t know who I am anymore and I have to allow myself the space to find out. The last thing on earth I need right now is to give all of my energy and attention to the very rewarding, yet very time-consuming and stressful job of teaching eighteen-year-olds. Even when I’m in perfect health, there is little or no time left over for me or for any type of creative work when I have to focus all my attention on forty-six freshmen in two classes, grading draft after draft of ten-page critical analysis papers, and a total of ninety smaller assignments during the course of the term.
It was so tempting—the money, not having to pay insurance premiums for four months (I think they have to give me health insurance benefits since I have a history of teaching there for four years—or maybe not), getting back into a familiar routine, resuming my old identity.
But for the first time in my life I need to put myself and my creative work first. I need all my energy for healing my body, and I need a flexible schedule for writing, journaling, meditating, being in silence, asking, “What does life require of me now? How can I fulfill my life’s purpose? How can I take this energy that has been stuck in every cell of my body and finally let it out?”
I’ve never done this before. I’ve always made the “practical” decision. It’s scary, even though I know it’s the right thing to do. And I do have options: my free-lance editing work. I’m not going to starve, the bills will get paid.
I’m learning how to love and take care of myself, and this is an important first step. To say “No” to things that would take you away from having the time to truly listen to your inner voice and to say “Yes” to all the possibilities that your life can be different now, richer, more satisfying, more of an adventure—is thrilling.
As Adrienne Rich says in her poem “Transcendental Etude”:
But there come times—perhaps this is one of them—
when we have to take ourselves more seriously or die;
when we have to pull back from the incantations
rhythms we’ve moved to thoughtlessly,
and disenthrall ourselves, bestow
ourselves to silence, or a severer listening, cleansed
of oratory, formulas, choruses, laments, static
crowding the wires. We cut the wires,
find ourselves in free-fall, as if
our true home were the undimensional
solitudes, the rift
in the Great Nebula.
no one who survives to speak
new language has avoided this:
the cutting away of an old force that held her
rooted to an old ground….