I want to know
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
what sustains you
from the inside
when all else falls away.
- Oriah Mountain Dreamer, "The Invitation"
This week I asked my freshmen to reflect: "When everything seems bleak and hopeless, what keeps you going?" And so I ask myself the same question.
Things aren't bleak and hopeless, but I feel like I've been in a rut lately. I have not been feeling great about work - I'm either stressed out, or tired, or just in general feeling like a failure. I don't feel desirable and attractive. I feel like I am no longer a person who does cool and interesting things and who keeps stretching her limits and learning as I live. In general, I just feel... blah. Ordinary. Mundane. Unremarkable. I would not go as far as to say that I feel like no one cares about my existence, because I know that's not true. But I would say that I feel like my existence is not making as big a dent in the universe (in a positive way) as I would like.
But it's not like I crave attention or popularity. (I would hate to be famous - I think I'd make a horrible celebrity.) In fact, it's the opposite thing that I want - instead of being recognized, but not known, by lots of people, I would rather be truly known, and cherished, by a precious few. How many people truly know who I am, what I'm all about? How many people would say that my presence matters in their lives? Not many, not enough even to comprise a precious few.
I'm not including my family, like my parents, my brother, my own daughter, and Jimmy because... well, it's a given. It would be stupid for me to say that I haven't impacted their lives and that they don't know me. Also, other than maybe Jimmy, they didn't have a choice about whether I would be in their lives or not.
No, I'm talking about people I happened upon along the way, like friends, colleagues, school mates... Was I everything that I could've been, to them? Did I make my mark, or did I just pass through, like sand in a sieve?
In other words, I've been feeling a little bleak lately. Not hopeless, but definitely bleak. It's been hard for me to feel motivated to start my day. I sit in my chair in the morning before work, and I just don't want to go. I go, of course, but my mind is at such a disconnect from my life and my responsibilities right now.
A big part of my problem has been work, and not even the part I get paid for. Being an advisor has been a major stressor for me lately, and if I didn't love my officers and Michael and Lisa, I would've hightailed it out by now, to save my own sanity. It really has gotten to the point where it affects the part of my job that I DO get paid for - the teaching part. I admit, I haven't been there for my own students as much as I should have, because I've been letting my advising responsibilities take up more of my time and energy - if I'm not actively doing advising work, I'm sitting and staring out at my kids like a zombie because I've got nothing left to give. And that is NOT how things should be.
I have trouble facing the day. I not only lack the motivation and interest to do the things I have to do, but I also no longer have the energy or will to do things that I actually want to do. I cancel social engagements. I've stopped going skating. I can't even bring myself to walk down to the weight room and go running right now.
I literally just don't. want. to do. anything. I don't even want to sleep, if I'm awake. (And if I'm asleep, I don't want to wake up.) I've become one of Newton's laws of physics - an inert object will remain inert until an outside force is applied. It's like, I literally don't want to move unless I have to.
And of course I feel bad about it. I feel like it's my fault somehow, for not being able to find my spark, for losing sight of my inspirations in life.
Okay, so... after a long-winded intro, here's the actual point of my post: I'm trying to find my way again. What does inspire me? What keeps me going? What makes me happy?
I was musing on Facebook the other day that I need to make a Happy List - things that make me happy, nice things that people have said to me or about me, anything that will pick me up. And I should look at it whenever I'm feeling down or unmotivated, and it should buoy me up.
I'm not going to put it here - the things that some people have said to me are very personal. But here are some of my inspirations, things that make me happy:
- Jolie - Of course. Not just because I love her. Not just because she's my daughter. The fact that I'm watching her experience the world makes me want to make the world a better place for her to experience. I'm excited to share things with her. You know how some people like to take other people to see movies they've already seen? Or some people like to make mixtapes of their favorite songs to give to other people? It's because we want to share something with someone else and see their reactions and see them experience what we've experienced already. It's why I never get tired of teaching certain books over and over - I enjoy seeing how my students will react. And so, I am enjoying seeing how Jolie reacts to the world. I can't wait to see her try ice cream for the first time. Or ride a rollercoaster. Or watch a horror movie. Or try makeup.
- The "a ha!" moment - As a teacher, I deal with a lot more negatives than positives. For every kid who gets it, there are three kids who, not only don't get it, but they don't care if they don't get it either. From what I can see, the lives I touch are far and few between. (I say "from what I can see" because teachers don't often get to see if they've affected a kid's life... sometimes the kids themselves don't realize that they've been affected by certain teachers until much later, when something clicks and they realize, "Hey, Mr./Ms. So-and-so was right!" At least, this is what I'm telling myself.) But every now and then I will witness a student having an "a ha!" moment in class, and it's the most fantastic feeling. This year, when I was teaching film terminology to my sophomores, one of them said, "Dude, Ms. Ngo, I've never even heard of any of this stuff before! This has totally changed my life - I'm never going to watch movies the same way again!" Again, these moments are far and few between, but it's enough. I'll take it.
- "You look really nice!" - Okay, I'm not totally vain, but it really is nice to be complimented on my appearance, because I don't hear it a lot, so when I do hear it, it's extra nice.
- Beauty, in general - When I say this, I'm referring to beauty in nature, in art, in the world - not just "beautiful people." I love the sky at sunset. I love gorgeous photography. I love smiles. I love vivid, saturated colors. Vintage, crackled-paint furniture. Lace. Feathery eyelashes. Droplets of water. The sound of a glockenspiel. A perfect scoop of vanilla ice cream. Argyle. These things are all beautiful to me, and they make life pleasant.
- Hugs - I love to be hugged - not just the reaching-around, two-pats-on-the-back, hey-how-ya-doin sort of hug, but a real, I'm-holding-you-because-I-need-you-to-be-near-me sort of hug. The kind that needs no words. Those don't happen often, but they're so wonderful when they do.
- Injustice - What I mean is, as long as there is injustice in the world, I'm going to care about fighting it. Injustice isn't a motivator in the sense that it makes me happy (because that's dumb); it's a motivator in the sense that I will never want to give up fighting it. Hatred, bullying, oppression... I'm throwin' down, because everything I've listed so far? That's what I'm fighting to protect.