Today is a rainy Friday morning, two weeks from the end of the semester. I am standing in from of my First Year Writing class, knowing that they realize full well that it’s a rainy Friday morning, two weeks from the end of the semester.
We are in the Personal Narrative Unit, the one where they can pick whatever they want to write about so long as they are able to show the before, during, and after of the experience/event and show why the experience was significant to them in some way. I do not have a formal lesson set out for the day, which is no surprise, so I decide the weather is a fitting excuse to show the twenty minute clip from J. K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech, the video they will need to watch to complete an extra credit opportunity I am giving them, an opportunity almost all of them need. For me, showing the video is an opportunity for twenty minutes of captive attention that will coincide nicely with the end of class.
I show the video because Rowling’s speech can be seen as a Personal Narrative where she discusses more than one experience/event and the impact on her life. Although my students only have to focus on one experience/event that is important to them, Rowling’s speech demonstrates the concepts we talk about in Personal Narrative: showing the significance through use of examples; who they are before, during, and after the experience; and, ultimately, the takeaway from the experience.
As they are watching the video, I too listen and watch the video. I am struck by Rowling’s mention of people who either peer into the metaphorical cage, unafraid of what they might see, or who turn away, too afraid to find out. Rowling’s praise of the power of imagination likewise impresses upon me, and combined with the other part of her speech, I am left mulling over the recent events in my life.
Approximately one year ago I left substitute teaching and the other positions I held in school districts that I had grown to think of as a hybrid between the space where I moved towards becoming an adult and my post-college purgatory. I left to end the year in another school district working as a Special Education Para-Educator, a job that would not only round out my experiences in Education but also mean a daily paycheck.
Approximately one year ago was also when my dad lost the job he held for as long as I could remember. In the loss of his job, my family lost our quasi-stable sense of security that was replaced by the sobering reality that the lifestyle we knew and were accustomed had turned into a ghost – a shadow, a specter attached to each of our lives.
Lastly, approximately one year ago was when I made the decision to attend the University of New Hampshire to pursue my graduate degree in English Literature. This decision meant that I would have to move up to New Hampshire to be closer to school, leaving my parents and the Boston area for the rural setting of the granite state. A state away and a world apart.
Approximately one year later I am sitting watching J. K. Rowling’s Harvard commencement speech, and I realize that I veil the past. Not hide. Not escape. Veil. I cover the past – my past – with the creation of this new life. New location, new friends, new experiences. This newness makes it easy to mask the past because this newness provides ample opportunities for distractions. Romantic interests, classwork, scholarship, even texting are each shiny lights that help lead me away from the past.
As I sit listing to Rowling’s words, I begin to register that I simply did not come to this new place in my life; I arrived here through experiences that span beyond approximately one year ago. Experiences where I not only peered into those dark cages, but also extended a hand to those stuck inside, hoping for someone to extend a hand to me.
The power of imagination was another topic that I was struck by in Rowling’s speech. I am a writer, but I am not the writer I used to be. Once I wrote for both others and for myself, creating worlds and narrations that were drafted because I wished to engage in the craft of writing. But in this new life of mine I feel I have become a passive writer, skillfully composing works because they are required of me instead of out of the enjoyment of allowing my unbridled imagination to seize my fingers and cast my attention into the abyss of inspiration.
Where is that individual I remember being? Did I shove her in one of the moving boxes neatly labeled with the contents inside and conveniently forgot to unpack her? Did I think I could erase her by becoming a new self in this new setting? Or worse, did I cut her up, using only those fragments I thought would look best with the new image I was creating?
Perhaps none of those possibilities. Perhaps she is shackled inside me, wanting to be set free from her cage. All the while I dangle the key in front of her – painfully, tauntingly – until a time when the pushes and pulls around me see appropriate to unchain her, one link at a time so as not to become overwhelming.
Today I choose to begin the process of unchaining her. As I write this, the key starts to turn and her wrists slowly move.