One Rainy Day

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.



What My Students Taught Me (Among Many Things) – Project Thankful: Reason #228

The first full week of grad school is over with.  On the third floor where my office and other Teaching Assistants’ offices are, the energy has changed somewhat.  It’s taken on a more serious tone as we fully realize our roles as instructors and the responsibility that comes with that.  Mingled with that seriousness is anxiety over how to juggle the classes that we teach and the classes that we take as students.

This morning, I overheard a fellow Teaching Assistant (TA) telling our mentor about his stress and his struggle to cope with it.  It’s a topic I can relate to.  I’m a worrier by nature, and situations such as graduate school exacerbate that stress.  I think my mom has lost track of how many freak outs I’ve had, many of which involved crying.

I, too, am stressed.  When I get stressed, I remember what my past students taught me.

See, my students didn’t know about my academic career.  They didn’t know where I graduated from, what honors I graduated with, what my accomplishments were, what other “professional experiences” I had.  What they did know was that I was Ms. R, the nice lady who would help them if they asked.  They knew I was there for them, that they could talk to me.  They knew that I would listen.

In academia, there is pressure, one that can lead a person to define their worth by their performance in the classroom.  What my students taught me is that a person’s worth is not defined by their accomplishments, their grades, their GPA.  They taught me that I value for reasons independent of any criteria for an essay, a research paper, a thesis.

They taught me what I knew already but didn’t fully understand.

As I sit in my office typing this blog post, I look around at the blank walls surrounding my desk.  Other TAs have put up posters in their offices.  I don’t have any posters to put up in my office.  What I do have, however, are drawings.  Drawings students have made for me over the years, visual “thank you” notes.  These drawings are currently sitting in my office at home; however, I think the belong in my office at school.  For when the stress starts feeling severe, I can look at them and be anchored by the memories of what my students taught me.

Writing Is My Addiction – Project Thankful #227

This week, I have two assignments due for my grad classes.  One assignment is to write a 400 word response to this week’s readings, 2 articles about the teaching of writing.  The other assignment is to write a 1000-2000 word blog post about another set of readings (different class).

I started off with the blog post.  At the time, I thought the blog posts had to be 2000-3000 words, not 1000-2000 words, so 2000 words became my goal.  About 1300 words into it, and I decided to re-read the assignment, realizing it only has to be between 1000 and 2000 words.  At this point, it’s going to be closer to the 2000 mark.

Then, there is the 400 word response letter.  At 587 words, I emailed the professor to ask if the letter can be over 400 words.  She wrote back that it can be “a tad over” but that she didn’t want to overwhelm us during the first week of school.  When I finally finished the letter, it’s 862 words.

My name is Lauren Rocha, and I am addicted to writing.

At Prospective Student Day for potential English graduate students, professors warned/gave the advice that there would be a lot of writing in graduate school.  Note: there is a lot of writing in graduate school (there is also a lot of reading, but that’s a subject for another blog post).  But here’s the thing: I love to write.  If I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be a blogger.  Or self-published two books once upon a time (I recently made the decision to un-publish those books, but, again, a subject for a different blog post).  Or write in my spare time.

The point is, I love to write.  So, yeah, the blog post for the class and the response letter are technically homework assignments, but it doesn’t matter; they are still writing.

What I am going to do then?  I have two choices: I can edit myself; or, I can write on.

The sounds of my fingers hitting the keyboard answers the question.


Employment, Graduate School, and That Money Thing – Project Thankful: Reason #225

When I got out of the shower yesterday and dressed, I did what I normally do: I checked my phone in case I had missed a call or a text.  Now, normally if I do miss such things they are from my sister while she is out walking the dog or she is sending a picture of the dog while out on a walk.

Yesterday, however, I noticed I had a missed call from a local (as in where I used to live local) number as well as a voicemail from that number.  Turns out, it was the assistant principal at the middle school I was a paraprofessional at for the last part of the school year.  He said how he does have it in his notes that I am going to graduate school in September, but he wasn’t sure if things had changed or if I’m taking night classes, because there is a paraprofessional position at the middle school that he would be willing to offer me.

After listening to the message, the fact that I essentially uprooted my life for graduate school really started to hit me.  I spent the past three years in Education; during those years, I left an impression in the schools I worked at, so much so that they would be happy to see me returning there again.  As that feeling of being uprooted started to rise, I reminded myself why I left my employment situation: to advance.  I need graduate school in order to advance my career; with the fields I am interested in, you need at least a Masters degree in order to do so.

More than that, I needed to move on.  It was time.  Before I made my recent move, my employment situation was starting to feel like less than a possible career path and more of a safety net.  A safety net that provided me with a paycheck to pay off my undergraduate student loans, gave some money for retirement, and left some money for other expenses.  With graduate school, I will be taking on more loans that I will have to pay back; however, with graduate school, I will also be taking on new employment, satisfying employment.

For my Intro to Grad Study course, the professor has assigned us the following blog post “Working Classes” as part of our first week’s reading:

In the blog post, the author mentions a type of thinking that is persistent among some: the “don’t go to grad school” attitude some people have based on the financial cost and overall uncertainty going to graduate school can leave a person and their career.  Before I made the commitment to  attend grad school, I admit, I had a strain of that “don’t go to grad school, will just bury self deeper into debt that might not even be worth it” thinking.  I am still saddled with my undergraduate loans and taking on more loans to help fund graduate school just seemed too overwhelming.  Plus, the “what ifs?”  What if I can’t afford to pay back my loans without going destitute?  What if I go broke just moving for grad school?  What if I can’t find a job after grad school and the schools I worked at won’t remember me?  What if I end up back where I started after I graduated, applying for hundreds of jobs with little success?

As the author of the blog post “Working Classes,” states, “I knew exactly what I was getting into.  When you grow up in a family of working people you get to know a thing or two about how employers are not the best representatives of your interests.”  With graduate school, I echo that statement.  I know what I’m getting myself into.  I know it’s going to be overwhelming and a lot of work, not just academically, but also personally and financially.  But I also know that it’s going to be worth it.  The author is right in saying “employers are not the best representatives of your interests.”  Even when I was working in Education, a field I found highly rewarding on a personal level (not so much on a financial level), there were times when I felt my employers were not the best representatives of my interests.  And chances were, I was right.  Many employers do not look at individuals; they look at the voids, the needs within their agency, and see how to fill them.  If an individual happens to be a solid fit for that need, then that individual is considered for a position.

In going to graduate school, I am taking back my career from the hands of uncertainty, from employers who might try to pigeon-hole me because of my experiences.  I am taking control of my career, deciding what position(s) I am not only right for, but that I want.  And being in control of your career, well, that’s what makes it all worth it.


Project Thankful: Reason #222

And…I’m moved in!

When I was considering which graduate school to go to, moving was a consideration.  I knew it would be costly to move, but I had no realistic idea of just how costly moving is.  I also knew that expenses incurred going to a school which required me to move away from home would also be a consideration.

Yet, here I am.  Living away from home, on my own.  As I write this, I am sitting in my living room.  My living room.

I’m thankful I made the decision to move.  I needed this; not just for my career, but for my personal health as well.  It’s time to focus on me.

Project Thankful: Reason #219

As much as I’m going to miss my family, I’m thankful to be moving out. It’s time. Crazy, chaotic, and at times overwhelming, moving out feels right. It feels like I’m where Life wants me to be.

Usually when I have these moments of “I’m at one with the Universe,” it means change is coming. Which in this case, seems pretty obvious. I’m about to start graduate school as well as teach, not to mention moving to a different state. But the change that usually comes with these very meditative moments is the type of change that causes me a have giant light bulbs go on over my head.

These are the moments when inspiration hits.