Tag Archives: trains

Practicing Fearlessness

Every time I head for my first class after the weekend, I get a little hiccup of fear.

What if I forgot how to teach?

What if the weekend gnomes ferreted away any knowledge or skill I had, and I’m about to walk into a classroom filled with expectant children, and I’ll have nothing to offer them?

I go through this nearly every week. It’s ebbed a little since the fall, as I’ve gained experience and more confidence, but it’s still there. Every week I feel this bizarre fear, and every week I teach my classes. My teaching ability doesn’t seem to atrophy over the weekend, but still, I feel it.

This past week was April vacation, so you can imagine how large this irrational fear has grown in anticipation of Monday.

I can only imagine what it will be like in September, after a glorious summer!

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Fear has immobilized me before.

I let a chick drown when I was eight because I was too afraid to reach and scoop its down-covered body from the water.

When I was nine, I stood screaming while a dog attacked my hens, tearing at them with his hunters’ teeth.

I felt small and insignificant and stupid when I walked by Richdale. I was in middle school and the boys hanging outside Richdale were in middle school and it was terrible.

When I was sixteen, I wouldn’t dance. My fear of looking foolish – of not knowing how – pinned me to the edge of the dance floor. I watched them spin and laugh and flap their arms and I was filled with envy for their freedom. I had the courage to wear a polkadot dress, but not to let the skirt swirl around me while I shimmied.

~     ~     ~

I was short with my mother as I moved quickly through the house. Throwing stuff in my purse, brushing my hair, making sure I still had money on my Charlie card.

“Do you want me to drive you in?”

No, no I don’t, because I am seized with fear and I can’t be.

Because I’ve worked too hard not to make choices based on this darkness, and I can’t stop now. Because my friend lives there – daily she has seen the results – and I am a child protected by distance and trees.

Because there is a concert I bought tickets for, and I am going.

I got on the train, settled into the seat, and breathed deeply.

Reading and Trains and the Beauty of Timing

anamericanchildhood

I bought another book I didn’t need today. It called to me from the stack at the used bookstore. I popped in (against my better judgement and against the wisdom of my wallet), thinking I could poke around and leave without buying anything. I should’ve known better.

It was a paperback copy of Annie Dillard’s An American Childhood.

I reasoned for a moment: You’ve already read this. You do not need to buy this.

But I knew even as I held its soft covers in my hands that I would buy it. That I should have my own copy. You really shouldn’t keep recommending a book that you don’t own. At least, that’s what I told myself as I went up to the cash register.

When I think of this book, I see myself on the train. I’m holding a hardcopy from the library, and I’m reading as the brakes squeak and smash me against the side of the train (this happened only a few times, I’m sure, but in my mind it was a constant interruption). I consumed this book with a fervor that surprised me; I’d tried reading Pilgrim at Tinker Creek the year before and I’m pretty sure that I will never get further than three pages into it.

There is something to be said for timing.

Dillard’s book spoke to me from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where a little blonde girl discovered the world and her place in it. I was a barely-bigger blonde girl, interning at a large publishing house for the summer before heading back to college. I rode the train every day, and every day I thought Is this what will happen to me? as I watched middle-aged men and women silently board the train, silently ride the train, and silently get off. Was this what life had in store?

“I discovered myself and the world, and forgot them, and discovered them again”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

[a poem wrote itself hurriedly on the back of a receipt from lunch. it was about being little and memories and contradictions. it was born out of Annie Dillard and the receipt is still in a book somewhere.]

The train moving forward, the hardcover book in my hands, my feet propped up on the runner. My stomach growling because I hadn’t packed a big enough lunch (again!), and my mind wandering to my senior year of college and what the heck am I doing and what the heck am I gonna do? The city slowly slipping away behind me and Annie’s world opening up.

“In short, I always vowed, one way or another, not to change. Not me. I needed the fierceness of vowing because I could scarcely help but notice…that it was mighty unlikely.”
― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

There was too much of me in her and it scared me. How important is it to be unique? I started hoping it wasn’t too important, because my uniqueness was being written away.

Every day I went into the city and every day I worked in a little gray cubicle. The words began to blur on the screen, blur on the page, blur in my mind. I longed for my lunch hour when I could take my little peanut butter and jelly sandwich (yay for cheap meals!) and eat in the gardens and watch poor unsuspecting people and yell at audacious squirrels. I loved words. I loved learning about publishing. But not talking for eight hours a day WAS KILLING ME.

So I escaped to Annie.

“As a child I read hoping to learn everything, so I could be like my father. I hoped to combine my father’s grasp of information and reasoning with my mother’s will and vitality. But the books were leading me away. They would propel me right out of Pittsburgh altogether, so I could fashion a life among books somewhere else.” ― Annie DillardAn American Childhood

Annie Dillard was to my 21-year-old self what Joan Didion was to my 23-year-old self. It’s all about timing. Who knows? Maybe I wouldn’t love either of them if they’d switched places.

~     ~     ~

So I bought another book I didn’t need. I think I bought it for the memories as much as anything; they’re all wrapped up inside. The book’s sitting beside me without a line or mark in it. Who reads their own paperback without marking it up? I don’t understand it. I can’t wait to get my hands on a pen.

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