Monday, January 14, 2013

Flip Side

Today I went back to school.

I've done this nine times, and there's always the same complex, convoluted taste in my mouth. The bitterness of work-dread and the sourness of regret and the sweetness of new challenges anticipated, they all mingle and swirl, and I don't know which one is dominant. I can tell they're all there, because I've learned to recognize them. They muddy themselves into a new taste, something ambiguous and unnerving and dangerous.

But today there was a new flavor, a new taste element twining and blending with the others.

Today I sat in my office, answered student emails, read texts for class, battled (unsuccessfully) with the procrastination troll that lives on my desk and looks just like the Internet. Colleagues stopped by the office intermittently to distract me. I thawed a block of spaghetti for lunch and I ate it. I printed my lesson plan. I went off to teach with subtle butterflies fluttering in my intestines. And it felt normal.

I felt normal. I felt like things were back as they should be. The world had returned to its usual method of rotation. Life went on, as usual. And--here's the surprise--that was a relief.

Last night a friend claimed that I value uniqueness above all else. I agreed; so my realization, that The Usual is a good thing, confuses me.

Maybe it's because my current Usual is a good thing. I like my setting, professionally speaking.

Vocation. Calling. Career. These words are weighed down with connotation, and I shrink to use them lightly, because they imply some sense of certainty of the future. That certainty just don't exist, folks; but the niche into which I nestled again today, breathing a sigh of comfortable relief, is something else. It's something different from the coffee shop or mowing lawns or cashiering at Wal-Mart. It feels...tailored.

Long live the dawn!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Chameleon

Image via

Last week I drove from Sheboygan to Milwaukee on Christmas evening, and I drove through the town my parents live in on my way to the highway. I've done this before, and it affected me last time I did it. There's something quickening about solitude.

As I drove through Sheboygan Falls, I noticed something: I was changing.

I am one person when I am with my family. I laugh at our inside jokes, I adhere to certain standards of behavior and interaction integral to the family-community, I am Ian-At-Home.

When I am in Milwaukee, I am another person. I am different. I find different things amusing; my discourse is different. I am Ian-In-The-World.

Of course, this change is illustrative of what I taught my Rhetoric and Composition I students last semester. I told them about discourse communities, different bubbles of relation with different standards of interaction. I tried to communicate to them the importance of facilitas, Quintilian's conception of community-jumping--intellectual agility--the ability to switch between discourse communities with self-aware grace.

That's all very well, but I'm gradually realizing that I am what I say. My identity is determined by my interaction. Does that mean that when I pass through Sheboygan Falls, morph from Home-Ian to Elsewhere-Ian, my identity is shifting?

Or am I a chameleon? Am I the same person beneath my ever-changing skin? Do I alter my outside to fit in? And if so, who or what is underneath?

Is there anything underneath? What if my cyclical skin is all there is?

Long live the cold sweat.