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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.


I’m minutes away from the close of my last day at work. Instead of feeling like an ending it really does feel like a beginning. And I think that’s a good sign.

So, here’s the tune:

There you go AstroBoy,
On your flight into space.
Rocket high, Through the sky,
More adventures to do all day.

AstroBoy bombs away,
On your mission today.
There’s a count-down, And a blast-off.
Every day is go AstroBoy!

Each month in the magazine I work for we run a short essay under the heading of “First Person.” Sometimes it’s a reflection by the writer on one of our major stories, or it might be a rumination on some timely topic of the day. Kathleen wrote about her 6-year-old son’s school cafeteria choices to accompany her cover story about school nutrition.

Since the June issue is my last, my editor suggested that I write a little farewell essay. (I’m proud to say her only edit was the addition of a single comma.) The front matter of the magazine isn’t included in our online version, so here it is: my farewell in 300 words or less, with its accompanying photo…

standing there cotton field


You probably haven’t read my name in this magazine before, unless you happened to see it in 7-point type as an occasional photo credit. But as art director and production manager, I’ve had a hand in the look and style of each page of ASBJ you’ve read for nearly two decades. That will be changing next month as I leave the world of publishing and prepare to join the Mississippi Teacher Corps, where I will teach English in a critical-needs high school in the Mississippi Delta.

I know the work I’ve done here has helped school districts in many ways, but I know, too, that policy alone cannot reach far enough into the deepest pockets of poverty and inequality so many rural and Southern school systems face. I’ve had the chance to spend a lot of time in all sorts of schools as I’ve traveled with ASBJ’s writers to photograph their stories. From an adult-education initiative in Pointe Coupee, La., to an ESL program for migrant children in Indio, Calif., or a “last chance” high school in Southside Boston, I’ve spoken with and documented the efforts of teachers in dozens of schools where they struggle every day to make a difference in the lives of the children most often forgotten or discounted.

One of worst forms of prejudice that threatens impoverished students is that of those in power who simply throw up their hands in defeat against what they believe is an unsolvable institutionalized problem. And it is, in fact, unsolvable from afar. But from within, and through the efforts of everyday educators, change can happen.

I won’t change the world … but one of my students just might.

Michele Sabatier,
Art Director and Production Manager

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.

road closed
Events here are looking more like I will have a year's delay in joining the Teacher Corps. They've said they can postpone my acceptance to 07, so I have a year to deal with. Of course, I'll have no job as of May 13. The young woman who will be taking my job has already resigned hers, and is a dream come true — so it just wouldn't be right for me to upset that applecart and then to start a new search in 6 months. I can work around a contract on the house so I won't be homeless. I've got some possibilities on jobs that would pay at least a living wage. Add to that the fact that I'm educated, white, living on the east coast of the U.S., and, like I said: I'm better off than 98% of the world.

So I'll probably have …

mom at bretts wedding 2005.jpg … a year to spend living near my mom, whom I'd had some regrets about leaving just as we'd gotten to a good place in our relationship

Em & Nathan … a year still living within a day's drive of my daughter who is really coming into her own as a woman I'm proud to know

women of the R.jpg … a year to enjoy friendships with a group of amazing women — oh, and JA

paint chips behind iris.jpg … a year to finally get that bathroom painted

dishes of color.jpg … a year of not doing creative work on deadline so I can return to making some art for myself

snowfence … a year in which there might be one more humongous mid-Atlantic snow storm that closes the federal government for days

standing there august poplars … a year to watch for the one thing to come along that will prove to me there was a reason it happened this way.

Of course … if my appeal to the dept. chair and dean is granted I'll ditch all that stuff above in a red-hot minute and head straight to the Delta! And that'll be the right thing, too.

I'll know within a week. Hmm. Crossroads.

just let go

Thanks, Hank. I can feel you holding my hand on this one … and no matter what, I’ll still be better off than 98% of the world.



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