Visions for my 40s: to dream up, plan, and help facilitate creative expression in community spaces that emphasize authentic connections.
Last week, I attended three days in a row of professional development for my position as an Educational Coach. The first day was from 6-9pm and it was chock-full of discussion, activities, and sharing with partners. I was exhausted by the time I got home and had to get up at 5:30am to travel for the second day.
The second day was a full day of learning about educational equity, which is something I am passionate about, but, in the last few hours, we were asked to role-play difficult conversations with a partner and I wanted nothing more than to crawl under the table for a nap. Immediately after this workshop, I drove myself and my co-worker to the hotel we were staying in for the evening. I continued to engage in conversation right up to bedtime.
On the third day, I awoke with a mild headache and the need to coordinate schedules with my co-worker before I was fully functioning. She and I arrived at day three in plenty of time to find a small table for two people instead of a table for six. I thought I was protected from too much interaction, but, as the workshop kicked off, we were given instructions to number off, get into groups of strangers, and rotate through a line of fellow coaches, interviewing them about what we had learned the day before. As the others began counting, I began crying.
Professional development for educators means very extroverted workshops. They are fast-paced, action-oriented, and require a lot of talking to others. Over the years, I've been able to desensitize myself a bit, but on this particular morning, after having zero downtime and waking up with a headache, I was unable to hold in my sensitivities.
Before it became my turn to shout out a number, I snuck out of the room. I sat down at a table and let the tears come. Once my emotions got a chance to say what they needed to say, I went back into the room, told the organizers my situation, and we came up with options. I chose to be led to a quiet room where I could take a timeout and decide what to do next. I laid down on the couch and passed out hard for a solid 45 minutes. When I woke up, my headache was almost gone. I was able to return to the workshop for the rest of the day, but this experience got me thinking about how often I have to act extroverted in this career choice.
During this past decade of being an educator, I've had many experiences with other educators appearing incredulous when I've attempted to describe my sensitivities, my struggles with anxiety/overwhelm and the impact on my physical health, my need for quiet, and my challenges with attending professional development/social events. I even had an administrator "diagnose" me with antisocial personality disorder. But here's the deal, I'm not antisocial.
Thinking about how I most enjoy being around others, I keep coming back to an experience I had in Glasgow, Scotland, right after the lessons I learned in Edinburgh. During the train ride back from Edinburgh, I planned a trip to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. Upon entry, I was drawn into a grand room that had open floor space in the middle, which was scattered with paper flowers, and tables set up around the outside. On the tables were paper, scissors, glue, pencils, wooden sticks, putty, and guests from all over the world making their own paper flowers to add to the collection.
I chose to join a table with two Asian women who I quickly learned were from China and spoke a little English, but mostly spoke Mandarin. After a few basic pleasantries, the three of us settled into joyful creativity - passing supplies to one another, showing each other our flowers, giving each other encouragement, and taking photos - mostly in silence. It felt good to be at this table, in a situation which felt so familiar and comfortable after a decade of being a beginning-level English as a Second Language (ESL) teacher. It felt uplifting to once again be creating in community and connecting with others through shared experience rather than forced conversation.
When we were finished with our flowers, we added them to the collective exhibit and went our separate ways. We spent no more than 30 minutes together and we exchanged no more than 30 words, but this memory has stood out in my mind as momentous and magical, as it embodies my love for Glasgow, the city whose motto is "People Make Glasgow," and reminds me that I love being around people, I just don't love being forced into interactions with people and I get overwhelmed by staying engaged for extended periods of time.
I do love writing in coffee shops, contributing to community art projects, listening to music at small venues, riding public transportation (though often with headphones), eating at restaurants, having one-on-one discussions, attending lectures, and visiting museums/galleries.
Now that I’m more aware of, confident in, and practiced at honoring my own needs, I’ve begun to envision new ways for using my skills as an educator, planner, curriculum designer, storyteller, and coach to bring forth the next phase of my career in a way that allows me to be me more of the time...and still be stretched by trying new things...so I can serve my community and still have time and energy for my own creative writing projects.
While my future vision is still a bit hazy, I am considering how to create opportunities for people to engage in creative expression in a community setting, how to create a learning environment that is rejuvenating for introverts, and how to create spaces where people feel connected to both themselves and others.
I trust that over the next decade, the right opportunities and partnerships will help bring more clarity to this vision and, eventually, allow me to dream up, plan, and help facilitate creative expression in community spaces that emphasize authentic connections.
In addition to the experience in Glasgow and my years as an adult ESL classroom teacher, here are a few more places and events that have served as inspiration:
Kinship of Rivers
St. Paul Art Crawl
Stills Center for Photography
Le Voyage à Nantes
Wreath Building w/ Ediflorial