Leaving my tenure-track teaching position at Everett Community College is right up there with the most difficult things I have ever done. Today, at my husband’s insistence, we drove up here with a stack of empty boxes and we cleaned out the remaining files. I kept quite a few. I tossed quite a few. I kept finding bundles of student letters (my creative nonfiction students wrote a self-reflective letter, to themselves, at the end of each quarter and turned it in with a self-addressed envelope; I have now sent all of them back — sorry for the delay!) and those had to be dealt with. I wrote notes on the first batch, and then gave up and just stuffed them in envelopes and put them in the mail.
In Thinking Like Da Vinci, Michael J. Gelb advocates writing lists. So here’s my list of the most difficult things that I’ve done in my life.
- Adopting my daughters–especially the first adoption, which came on the heels of a failed adoption and was, thus, emotionally fraught, but the second one, too, when it really seemed (at age 43) that I was too old for a newborn.
- My Ph.D.–particularly the writing of the dissertation. Exams were right up there, too, now that I think about it. I remember feeling as though a committee member might lean forward and say, “Isn’t your dad a logger? Aren’t you working class? Why are you here?”
- Leaving my restaurant career…
- Getting married, and staying married… (let’s just leave it at that).
- My decision to get an M.F.A. rather than a teaching degree (despite my husband’s opposition).
- My dad’s death in the summer of 2010.
- My mom’s illness this summer.
- I can definitely put “parenting teenagers” on the list, though parenting my twins as preschoolers can’t really be topped for difficulty.
- Writing a novel and seeing it…almost…through to completion.
What I notice when I look back over this list is that I wouldn’t give up one of these, that I am, in fact, grateful for them. The really hard things, it turns out, are the things that have made my life my own. (I’d rather my dad were still alive and my mom, still healthy, but would I choose not to be present with the death of a loved one? To not be there now for my mom? No thanks, I’d rather be present.)
I remember a poet some years ago–this was at the University of Washington back when I was on the Watermark Reading Series committee–telling us that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she told herself, “I am going to survive this, and I am going to write about it.”
I have mixed feelings–still–about leaving my college teaching job. But I already know that I am going to survive it, and I am going to write about it. The two things are (for me, at least) intimately related.
So, what are your hardest things? What’s the hard thing that you’ve been putting off doing?