Museum Exhibits in the Mind

Not teaching for a while has done something to me cognitively.

It is hard to separate myself from other factors like more exercise, a better diet, and meditating.

But hear me out.

My brain feels like it is changing. In school, every five seconds was taken by a student asking for my attention. I would often have the same routines and the same phrases to transition those routines. And even for 10th grade, I needed those to keep class running smoothly. It felt like a broken record, with a scratch every time I threw myself into another class.

By the end of each day, my mind felt frazzled, on edge, like some person had grabbed my brain and put it into a game of Boggle. There was too much stimulation all the time. Granted, it wasn’t quite as bad as some other Title I schools, but the point has less to do with bad conditions as rather the role of a teacher in general.

Lately I’ve been describing the change like this: there are museums in my head that I used to visit. And once I started teaching in 2014, plenty of that got covered up. The processes of thought I used to relish in had cotton sheets over them, closed for “future renovation” and never rediscovered. Dust crept in. I started to look back on my past as childish and refused to go back in, sort of like the west wing in The Beauty and the Beast. “What’s in the west wing?”

“It’s forbidden!”

But now that I am out of teaching and I am reading more, spending more time with myself, I feel as though I am reopening those parts of my brain. This came to light explicitly when I decided to read some pages of philosophy each and every day. I have been reading about Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes like that sixth grade kid I used to be in the library, picking up biographies of Albert Einstein I had no business reading. A.C. Grayling has been so entertaining with his recent magnum opus The History of Philosophy which I would highly recommend. He is able to move from the fancy ideas delineating empiricism and rationalism to writing about how Francis Bacon died because he got infected while stuffing snow into a dead chicken.

I have an immense joy getting back into the written word, not as a thing to labor over and provide feedback for, but as an adventure to go on, so much so that yesterday I had the thought of writing each day for over four hours, just to see how far I could go. The only competitor is myself.

So what’s changed? Clearly this feeling could have occurred over a typical summer vacation. To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the difference is, except to say that seven months until August (since we closed in March) is much more powerful than the typical June, July, and part of August summer vacation I am used to. So what is the lesson here?

It makes me wonder whether I was meant to be a teacher, or if this was simply a hiatus that kept me away from myself. Maybe I was trying to fit the mold of a teacher and it was unwell. Still, before I go back into something, I’m grateful for the time I’ve been given, because I feel like I’m waking up.

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