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The Unexpected Year

I mailed our Christmas cards yesterday. With each card was a newsy letter that will make you think the transition to our new home has been seamless and happy. While there have been many good things about this move, the truth is that moving is hard. So here is my honest Christmas letter.

* * * *

I have published nothing this year. Not one poem, not one essay, not one article. I haven’t even written one new poem.

I DID manage to write 18,000 words for NaNoWriMo, which brings my new novel to a total of 29,000 words. I can tell you now, the whole draft is a pretty huge mess. But it’s a start I guess.

It’s hard to call yourself a writer when you’ve more or less stopped writing.

I DID manage to score a literary agent this year in March, and we spent two months doing some small revisions and marketing legwork, and in June, my agent started submitting my novel to editors. The waiting process has begun. We’ve received a handful of rejections and two full manuscript requests so far.

It’s hard to keep up your dream of being a YA author when things don’t all fall into place like you want, when every rejection makes you wonder if you’re just not good enough after all.

I’ve also been reflecting on how isolating writing is. It’s a solitary event, not a public one, and there’s really no one cheering me on. I’m on my own. No one sees my work, because writing a novel is not blogging or writing for literary magazines. It’s hard, unseen work, and it’s this constant tug-of-war between I need to do more of it vs but it’s this invisible, thankless thing right now.

* * * *

I could not find a job this year. I had two job leads in Lafayette and they both fell through. For one, I was recommended by the director of the ESL program here. She met with the principal, gave him my extensive resume, and told him to hire me. He didn’t. There were no other applicants and no other ESL certified teachers to hire. But still, he didn’t hire me. I ended up taking a job I didn’t want and as it turns out, I couldn’t do it. It didn’t matter that I had 18 years of teaching experience. I was miserable. I was crying every night, every weekend, like it was my first year of teaching all over again. I couldn’t handle the kids and I couldn’t change the punitive environment already set at the school and I couldn’t teach math.

It’s hard to call yourself a seasoned teacher when you fail at teaching.

I tell myself to think about the past two years, teaching beginner level ESL students at Glencliff High School in Nashville, and how rewarding those years were. I felt like I was making a difference. I love those kids. My second year there, especially, I felt like I got it right; my units and lessons went well, and for the most part, I felt like the kids learned something. But also: they made a difference in me. Over and over, those kids taught me. They taught me empathy and made me face my own white privilege. They taught me the power of a person’s story. They taught me that love and acceptance transcends language and skin color and culture. I miss those kids. I hope they know. I hope they know how much of a difference they made for me.

I DID find another job, albeit a job that is 70 miles away from home, but I took it. And I love it. It’s elementary ESL, and it’s wonderful. I teach small groups of English Learners all day long, and they are super kids.

* * * *
Still, I find myself at a crossroads. What will I do next year? I’m gone from home 11 hours a day. I really need to get home earlier so I can help get the kids to all the places they need to go. I need a few minutes to just sit on the couch and decompress after the work day. I need to see my family more. I need time to write.

Should I stay with this job next year? Should I go back to the school district where we live and give it another chance? Should I try to get a private school job teaching English/writing? That sounds kind of exciting to me, but I’m scared. I’ve never taught private school before, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve taught native English speakers.

I feel like I’m floating in some big nowhere or everywhere, maybe, unsure which direction to go.

* * * *

I never thought I’d be this homesick. I mean, I was a missionary kid. I moved away from my extended family and all my friends when I was 11 years old. I moved across the world to Thailand. I got used to all the goodbyes and I got used to making new starts. Even after 22 years in Nashville, I didn’t think I’d be so homesick. But I was. I am. It’s better now than it was in August and September, though.

* * * *

It’s hard to make new friends when you’re 40 years old. Even in Nashville, though, where I had friends, I rarely got together with them. Everyone, including me, was busy. We were working and driving our kids to practices/rehearsals/games/shows every night. I remember feeling like I had a ton of facebook friends who liked my posts, but no one who actually wanted to hang out with me. Pity party, much? I know. Still, I had the occasional girls night out/in or families with kids get togethers in Nashville.

The people here, especially the people from Steven’s and the kids’ school, have been really welcoming and friendly. It helps. But truly making a friend beyond the acquaintance/sports mom/school event chatting stuff isn’t easy. I do have some acquaintances that I think can become true friendships given time, which is hope.

* * * *

There is good, there is good, there is good, of course. There is the goodness of Ascension Episcopal School and the goodness of Christian Youth Theater and the goodness of a home we love (with a pool!) and the warm weather and friendly smiles and teachers who thank me for helping their students with English and a boss who appreciates me. There is the goodness of how close we’ve had to become as a family, how we’ve been there for each other on the bad days and the happy days, how we still play board games over supper each night, a tradition we started a couple of years ago in our last house. Don’t think there is not good.

Still, we curate our lives to show people what we want to show them, don’t we? Writing this blog post, I am curating my life right now. I suppose this is what I want you to know: It has been a hard and unexpected year, but that doesn’t mean I’ve missed the joys that were a part of it. This is our lives, isn’t it? Some mix of good and bad, joy and sorrow, peace and pain. We have to embrace it all.

9 comments

  1. I understand how you can feel like you’re not really a writer if you’re not writing. But you ARE – 18K words during NaNoWriMo? That’s writing. As writers our work is going to vary. You are working with an agent. That’s part of your job as a writer. I’ve got two manuscripts being read by presses right now, but I haven’t started anything “new” although I’m trying to find a subject for my next book . . . Tuesday was my final book tour event for 2018, and all those events were part of my work as a writer. Writers have “seasons” in which we do new work, we revise old work, we market our work, and we also LIVE OUR LIVES, from which we often find inspiration for new work. Like the inspiration you got from your students. I know you don’t feel like it, but please remember that you are YOUNG. I’m 67, and published my first 4 books at ages 65-67. And I’m still going. My neighbor and mentor Sally Thomason is in her mid 80s and is about to publish her 5th book. She published her first book at 65, the year she got her PhD in aging. My advice to you after reading this post is to get a job where you aren’t away from home 11 hours a day . . . you only have a few years left with the kids at home, so treasure them! YOU ARE A WRITER. YOU ARE A TEACHER. YOU ARE A MOTHER. Celebrate this season of your life and don’t have an agenda for what you must “produce.” Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  2. Sasha says:

    Karissa:
    I was an ELL teacher who was also a writer in Nashville. You touched me with your writing and this post. I was at a similar crossroads to the one you are now when I stumbled on you, through an In-service you were teaching and this blog. I had been in a leadership position in my previous state, and when I moved to Nashville I went back to the classroom. I found your writing about uncertainty so helpful then, and again now. I’m no longer teaching but I think I’m just where I need to be. Hang in there. Discomfort=growth. Thank you for sharing your amazing self here. I can’t wait to see where your adventures lead you. Vulnerability is what’s up!!!!

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