Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Doozy

Last week marked the conclusion of my first year being a principal.  People keep asking me, "So how was your first year?  How do you like being a principal?"  And I keep just staring blankly at them, having no idea how to respond to these questions.

It was like nothing I've ever done.  I feel like dough that's been kneaded into a ball, thrown on a cold counter, and rolled out thin.  A bit thinner with each passing day.  I feel like I've been dancing with an angry swarm of bees for 10 months.  Like I got dropkicked into the ocean and have maybe just now started to learn to swim.  I feel like a fierce mother, determined to let nothing harmful near my child.  And like I've ended up in the middle of a cosmic joke; not as the punch line, but definitely part of the comedic plot.

I've never felt this weak before.
I've never felt this strong before.

I learned what if felt like to peel myself up through fatigue and fear and illness and just keep going.  Somewhere amidst that is a strength, I know.  But I also feel like someone has been kicking the shit out of me in a back alley for the better part of a year.  I'm terribly exhausted, but not as scared as I was.

A year ago I ran a half marathon for the second time.  It really didn't go very well.  The first half was fine, and then my iPod unexpectedly died, and my feet hurt, and it was so hard to keep going.  I was in a bad mood and just couldn't find my groove.  During those last six miles, I so appreciated the people cheering on the sidelines.  A mile from the end of the race a man had posted himself to encourage runners.  He was a competitor himself who had finished and jogged back to the 12-mile marker to cheer on the rest of us.  Had you asked me before the race, I would have said that his presence there would be irksome -- he'd finished, he had enough energy to run another mile and then casually hang out.  But I was wrong; that man was the reason I was able to finish the race.  He looked me in the eye, gave me a high five, and told me to keep going, that I would make it.  I held that with me during that final mile.

This year I had everyone telling me I could do it, that I could hang in there, that I could make it to the end of the year.  And I needed every single voice, needed to cling to the belief others had in me.

I think the tough part for me now is that the race is not done.  It's just beginning, and I have to keep running.  In fact, I'm not even sure how long the race is.  When will it stop being uphill?  When will the scenery become welcoming?  When will I hit my stride?  I've been told that at the very least next year will be hell on wheels, too.  And I believe it.

Somewhere in there, though, it's okay.  Because I'm starting to see the change -- in the school, the staff, the kids.  We have so far to go, so very far.  But my dreams for this place are beginning to take root.  This growth is difficult for all of us, and the progress is often subtle and elusive -- but it is there, and I'm determined to cultivate it.  And I'm honored that any number of adults are willing to put their faith in my vision and leap with me.

In the meantime, I'm still waiting for the punch line of this joke I fell into.  I bet it's a doozy.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Setting The Body On Fire

Since I became a principal a few months back, I think it's fair to say that my life is a smidge more stressful than it was before that moment.  Weekly yoga practice notwithstanding, the stress has found all sorts of interesting ways to manifest itself.  Of particular note is the fact that I am now (on and off for the past seven months -- mostly on) hard of hearing.  The stress has created a nearly constant ringing in my right ear that has spontaneously rendered me an old woman.  "Eh, what's that, sonny?"  I've taken to only holding the phone to my left ear and generally making everyone around me repeat themselves, which embarrasses me and frustrates them.  I'd fake it and nod more if I could, but virtually every piece of information communicated to me these days is new, relatively important, and requires my actual understanding.  The smile and nod just won't cut it.  "I'm sorry, say that again..."  This is all fairly amusing to me since parents and colleagues are constantly surprised when I introduce myself as the school's principal: oh, but I'm so very young to be principal, they tell me.

While I could do without the brain ringing, I'm finding that I can't imagine giving this up.  I know that sounds all simple and lovely and romantic, but let me assure you -- it's not.  It's painful and confusing and joyous and unexpected and exhausting and lonely and exhilarating and... it's not simple.  And I do not feel simply about it.  In fact, I find that I narrate my story constantly, as a means of trying to construct an understanding around this new identity and endeavor I've been thrown headlong into.

My weekend yoga practice helps me create the space in my life to do this.  A couple weeks back my instructor was giving a brief lesson at the start of class about Shiva, one of Hindu's three main deities.  Brahma is known as the creator, Vishnu as the preserver.  Shiva is the destroyer.  Destroyers often get a bad rap; "creator" or "preserver" sound so much more appealing.  But destroying can also mean transforming, a way to make way for the new.  My teacher explained it this way: "Shiva set the body on fire to find out what the soul was made of."  And that made so much sense to me.  It describes the way I've felt about this school year.

I don't mean to sound grandiose or dramatic, but so often this year I've felt like I've leapt belly first into a volcano, to be wholly swallowed by the molten ocean within.  My stress accumulates in my joints, I have bags under my eyes, it feels as though my skin will fall off, I can't hear anymore, and I wake up at 3 and 4am in a quandary of puzzlement.  I've set my body on fire.

But I am surely finding out what my soul is made of.  I feel myself shifting and being stretched.  I'm watching as I push people, share my vision, demand more.  And the school begins to reshape itself.  I have such a passionate rage burning in me that I can't sleep because I want it to be the next day so that we can do the next thing.  The next 87 things.  Immediately.  So the school can be better, so the children can be more prepared to face the lives lying in wait for them.  I want it now.  My soul is alight.

Maybe it takes a little destroying to make room for the transformation.  Maybe the pain and discomfort -- and the ringing in my ear -- are worth it, if it means that my soul can learn what it's made of.