The Smaller Desire
I long ago chose to live in my corner of the world, the part of New York State in which a three-story building is a behemoth. I type this…essay? missive? journal entry?—as I wear a brown sweater in my high school classroom, a few hours before a handful of part-time thespians come to perform the comic one-act we’ve been rehearsing. Two different colleagues have stopped by to apologize for their non-attendance, but have thanked me for what I do for the kids.
I like my job, and I like doing what I do for the kids. I like that this odd little group that might never set foot on a stage otherwise is going to take on roles like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty and delight in making fools of themselves. There is value in the life of a teacher.
But I also know what I gave up to be a teacher. I began college as a business major and an officer in the student-managed investment fund, pursuing a lucrative career in finance. I later declared my English major and received plaudits within that department, too. My decision to become a secondary educator split the faculty who knew me. Half praised me for my idealism. My supervisor at the university writing center, for one, told me she liked to “think of me out there in a school somewhere,” fighting the good fight. The other half told me to aim higher and urged me to pursue my doctorate and rise to the top of my field. I thanked them and ignored their urgings toward ambition. It was the simple life for me. Married with children in a country town, teaching high school English. That life was my greatest desire. I’ve lived that life for several years now, which means I am very fortunate. I still desire that life as much as I did at 22, which means I am very blessed.
A few minutes ago when that colleague thanked me for working with the kids, and I had wished him a happy birthday, I turned back to the football field and autumn leaves outside my window, snug in that sweater I received last Christmas. It’s one more warm little moment in a career that has stretched 15 years and will stretch 25 more. Sometimes, at these moments of satisfaction, I also feel a pang.
My smaller desire, the one I would confess to few outside of Prose, is for something I wrote to be selected for publication. That would take me beyond this little world. It would mean that I could have my provincial cake and eat it too. I could live a small life but know that my thoughts and passions had been shared, been communicated to people beyond the boundaries of my county. There is a sense in which I am a writer. I would like to feel like a real writer. I would like something I have written to be chosen.
And then, after some hugs from close friends and a celebratory bottle of local wine with my wife, I’d be back to my classroom again, a man wearing a sweater and doing what he can for the kids.