I guess I could blame it on writer’s block.
But more accurately, I blame it on my fear of my own voice.
2017 has been a year of intense political strife and polarized arguments. It has been a year of crass journalism, de-friending social media debates, and endless euphemisms to avoid offense.
As a teacher, it meant trying to be a face of neutrality in a polarized and emotionally charged classroom. And after years of being accused of “indoctrinating homosexuality” and a “crude Feminist agenda,” I strive ever more to prove that I am just trying to cultivate discussion with critical thought that might challenge the homogenous population in Highlands Ranch for the sake of learning about various perspectives and experiences, as I thought were the duties of the English teacher.
I even learned to fear the books that I knew my students would actually care about because I knew I would be accused of robbing my high school students’ innocence as we read The Color Purple, or heaven forbid, Margaret Atwood. So instead, I carried along with the cult classics, which are ripe with depth and beauty, but often lose the reluctant readers with its complex language and cumbersome descriptions.
However, I knew that if students read Toni Morrison or Rupi Kaur that they would have visceral responses and our discussions about the state of humanity would be urgent and important. Suddenly, English class would matter to them. They would be talking about it outside of class and grappling with the harsh realities that exist. Last year, I chickened out of The Color Purple in AP Lit and left it as an option for students. Sure enough, the students who picked that book devoured it in one sitting, contemplating abuse, spirituality, and identity. It shocked them. It mattered to them. And in a world where half the population can retweet #metoo, shouldn’t we let them talk about it?
In fact, as I am writing these questions, I am pausing, backspacing, second guessing. What if I get in trouble for this? For maintaining my own personal blog? Outside of school, am I allowed to be a normal person? With thoughts and opinions? Or am I confined to being a calm voice of neutrality both in and outside of the classroom?
I think the right answer is the latter. But I can’t do it. In trying to prove I am a neutral teacher at all times in my life, from the hallways of school to the aisles of the grocery store, I have lost my voice.
I’m afraid to say anything.
I don’t want to upset the multitudes of people that I know will disagree with me.
I don’t want to validate rumors of my political affiliations.
I don’t want to be accused of all of these falsehoods because students actually thought about something that mattered, even if it was controversial.
And somewhere along this list of fears, I forgot that I just want to be me.
And “me” means that I cannot stifle my thoughts and my opinions when I am boiling at the injustices around me. I can be the consummate professional the 10 hours I spend at work, but at some point, in some place, I have to be myself again. For fear of students or parents stumbling across this blog and being offended by what they see, I lost any outlet for me to voice who I am and what I believe in the place that I created for that purpose. My mouth has been duct taped shut.
So every time I feel the familiar seize of words bubbling up on the latest political drama or the harrowing experience at work, I remember I cannot write about that. Because I have to be perfectly neutral at all times. I cannot offend anyone. I have to be Perfect Alexa.
So instead I try to write some safe, non-offensive piece (as if that is possible in 2017) and find myself deleting every word in disgust. Then, I will start aggressively tapping my keyboard in response to the latest incident of police brutality, and conversely, deleting every word.
That’s why I stopped writing.
That’s why I stopped smiling.
That’s why I stopped being me.