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You guys know how to burn it down and I love it! I really appreciate our friendships and having a safe place to let go!

This message I got recently says a lot about one of the things I do like about living where I am now. The safety of friends … and the anonymity of a fairly large city. These have been important for me.

I think a lot about what my role will be in a small town. And in a position of leadership that will surely extend beyond my classroom. That kind of life — under the public microscope — has never been my strong suit. I live an ethical and moral life; but I do live it on my own terms. And even here I’ve been judged for it.

I know that I’ll always be “from away” no matter how long I might stay in Mississippi so I suppose there’s an expectation that I will be different from others in my town. But being a teacher is an extremely public job, and it’s a role I take seriously. But it’s also crucial to my sanity to have a safe group, a safe place where there’s a free exchange of ideas and uncensored feelings.

Maybe I should start practicing now.



My friend Geoff knows a lot about fear. But what he knows even more about is how to tame and maybe conquer it. And for what he has helped me learn about that, I will always be grateful — and think of him often. I miss his wisdom and frequent talks. Discovering recently that he's living the questions yet again has given me a new perspective on my own little situation.

I never thought I would be this fearless. I did think that the whole movingtomississippinotknowingwhereorwhatcomesnextwheni'm50something deal was pretty much on the edge of the voluntary abyss for me, but now: Literally not knowing how I'm going to keep myself for the next year is kind of out there, too. My usual response to chaos and stress is to immediately rein in all the practical details and get into serious planning mode. But for some reason I'm leaving that to chance this time and am content to know very little about the practical parts.

When I'm asked, "How are you going to live?" by concerned friends, my frequent response is, "Consciously," rather than the expected outline of how I will earn money or pay my bills. The thing is, it's working. The less I expect, the more comes along, and I have complete faith that it will just keep going that way day by day. I suspect the key to this is that so much useful energy is freed up, that I'm able to channel it productively in what feels like an effortless manner.

I remember having a discussion with someone years ago when we were both concerned about our futures. In the course of talking we developed a metaphor for our lives of driving along a road (OK, not so original, but wait: There's more.) You know, when you're driving along you don't really need to be able to see the whole road ahead of you all the way to the destination. Just the part that gets you through the next curve — or even just the bit that's illuminated by the headlamps.

Misha's application
Well, as long as I don't really have to work a real job for a while, I decided I could spend some time in places I like. One of those places is Misha's Coffee in Alexandria. And guess what! The whiteboard said "Misha's is hiring. Ask for an application." Not being one to disobey, I did just that.

Here is the application in its entirety, with its usage, spelling, and whatnot intact:




Think about a productive activity at which you excel: qustion why you do it, why you excel at it, and how you know that you excel at it; question waht what your bearing towards this activity tells you about the essence of "good work" and the essence of "working well." Write a unified coherent essay regarding these four questions.

This explains a lot about Misha's. 

tall grass

My friend Nergui is learning Vietnamese. The first six verbs she’s learned are:


As luck would have it, these describe exactly what I intend to do for the next year.

Here’s the thing, though: It’s funny that so many people asked me what I was going to miss most when they found out I was moving to rural Mississippi, but no one has asked me what I’ll miss most now that I’m not going for another year, and will instead be here in northern Virginia with no visable means of support. I’m still stepping off a huge cliff … bigger in a way since I don’t even have a specific plan for my life right now.

Now that I won’t be going to a job every day, I think what I’ll really miss is serious conversations. This will be a priority for me to find some sort of opportunity to engage my mind in interaction with other people on a regular basis. There’s a definite social aspect to any office environment, and especially working among journalists where the coin of the realm is ideas.

So I will be taking a year off. My appeals to the university were not heard — at least not in time to go forward on the contract to sell my home. I’ll take one class in the early summer session, and then have the summer off. Then I’ll do some substitute teaching in the fall if I need to.

I know it’s a complete cliche, but this week has been a real journey constantly hurtling through anger, fear, panic, resignation, discovery, joy, and peace. Not necessarily in linear progression, either. But probably impossible without the love and support of so many wonderful people along the way. Thank you all of you. You know who you are.

I’m actually looking forward to having this time to myself. I haven’t really done that since I stayed home for 3 years with Emily. I’m also interested in finding out how simply I can live. It’s a good benchmarking activity before heading down to Mississippi.

For the past 3 or 4 months nearly everyone I know has asked me about what I will miss most when I move to Mississippi. For some reason almost all of them immediately suggest Thai food, though I think the food answer is probably pho. The effect this has had is for me to be very aware of everything around me and to realize I will miss the song sparrow who wakes me every morning with his impossibly complex song, the exact shape of the faucet I chose for my kitchen, the feel of that third curving dip on Cherokee Avenue. So now I have this wonderful opportunity to live a year in a sort of hyperaware state of my surroundings.

It’s a real gift.

So I’ll just follow this year wherever it takes me.



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